In the 2008 presidential election, it was Barack Obama’s ability to mobilize a lethargic electorate towards the polling booths that secured his presidential future. However, will all those young, enthusiastic voters turn out for him during the midterms next month?
Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential elections provided a diversification of US politics- a broadening of the ballot box whereby more Americans took up their democratic right than ever before. Geopolitics is always crucial to electoral results. In 2008, the breakdown of the electorate in terms of race was as follows: 59% white, 20% black, 18% Hispanic and 7% other. This is a stark contrast to its predecessor: 79% white, 12% black, 6% Hispanic, and 3% other. From 2004 to 2008, the proportion of young voters also grew exponentially, bolstering the Obama-Biden ticket.
However, roughly two months before the midterm elections and most Democrats are already turning green at the prospect. Recent evidence suggests the relationship between Obama and his previously loyal supporters is turning glacial. If Obama cannot find a thaw in this relationship, the consequences are glaring: without these new voters the 2008 election would have had an entirely different complexion with Obama winning between 49% and 50% of the vote and John McCain winning between 48% and 49%.
In that historic election campaign, Obama prodded these diverse voters out of their suffrage slumber, meaning that they were loyal to him, rather than to the Democratic Party on its own. This loyalty was based on his portrayal of America’s vision of hope, of his message for change, and his ability to buck the political trend. According to recent polls, this message has progressively fallen on deaf ears.
The party in the Oval Office traditionally loses seats in the midterms. This time, however, it is more a question not of whether Obama will lose seats but how many. A ‘wave-election’ looks almost a clear-cut certainty. The main cause of this, of course, is the economy. The recovery has slowed recently to a misconstrued crawl. This month was the third consecutive month of decline in overall employment. The rate of unemployment notched up once again to 9.6 percent and the Democrats fate became closer to being sealed. This, combined with the Democrats’ foolish assumption that their healthcare bill would swing public opinion behind them has enflamed Republican dreams of recapturing Congress, as a recent Gallup poll gave them their largest lead since the firm began in 1942.
A huge slice of the Obama’s electoral cake came from Hispanic voters in 2008. It is the Obama administration’s handling of immigration that has alienated this Latino vote so drastically. Most importantly, the number of Latinos who would turn out to vote in November doubles if Obama can introduce a sweeping legislative immigration program which ensures that immigrants pay back taxes, learn English and wait in line accordingly for admittance.
Such a move would undoubtedly be a risky one. Despite holding the Oval Office, Obama and his administration seem to be on the political defensive on immigration along with almost everything else meaning that they are unlikely to take such a chance so close to the midterms. Currently, it seems as if the Republicans simply need to emphasize Obama’s failures to claim back Congress.
These midterms will undoubtedly break the back of an already fragile Democratic grip on Congress. That much is beyond debate as Obama has lost too much vital ground in the polls as the Republicans enjoy a 10% lead. The Democrats’ economic woes have been compounded by political miscalculations and administrative blunders. The party has made an unfortunate habit of supporting unpopular policies and selling them ineffectively. From the lambasting of BP to yielding nothing on energy as carbon cap-and-trade has had to be abandoned, the Democrats have progressively dug their political grave.
This said, the accusation that Obama has single-handedly destroyed the vision he was once defined by is an oversimplification. Unfortunately for the President, the midterms are not simply a referendum of his presidency, they are a reflection of his party’s overall popularity. Obama has succeeded at many things in his first term, healthcare being the feather in the cap, but detaching himself from the Pelosi-Reid-Obama tag is not one of them. It is this alliance that threatens disaster for the Democrats in November. Mr. Obama should have kept his distance from his friends on Capitol Hill. Now he symbolizes a broken and jaded party rather than the beacon of hope that he once was.
However, if Mr Obama can recapture the youth’s political imagination, he may avoid the fate of his Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton. In 1994, Clinton’s approval rating was in the mid-40’s, much like Obama’s is currently. On Election Day, the Democrats lost control of Congress, but only 13% of those who voted were under the age of 30.
From becoming the first Afro-American President of the United States to earning a controversial Nobel Peace Prize in his first term, Mr.Obama has a certain affinity with the parchment of the history books. However, if he is to avoid being conscribed to the altogether more common mantle of a lame-duck President, he must once again bend the arc of history. It would be unprecedented for turnout to jump among young people in an off year election, but for Obama to retain a manageable grip on Congress, this is what he must achieve.