As I and many others have argued, pundits who claim that Obama’s newly aggressive populism is only about winning back the Dem base are flatly misstating the nature of the bet the White House has made. Right or wrong, Obama and his team believe their aggressive pitch for the new jobs plan and for tax hikes on the rich — and the threat to veto any deficit deal without new revenues — is the best route to winning back independents, too.
Now Mike Tomasky has added another important dimension to this argument, noting that the key thing about independents is that they’re not the monolithic bloc of voters we keep being told about:
Democrats often make a terrible mistake in thinking that base Democrats and independents have completely opposing interests. Democrats tend to think of independents as Republicans Lite ... But independents aren’t that monolithic. Of the 35 or so percent of voters who call themselves independent, according to Democratic pollster Guy Molyneux of Peter Hart Research Associates, about two thirds are basically Democrats or Republicans who just prefer calling themselves independent but whose votes are pretty reliable. That leaves maybe 10 to 15 percent of the electorate that is truly independent — still a big chunk, for sure, and a crucial or perhaps the crucial key to winning most elections. There are two things about these voters, Molyneux says.
First, they take some conservative positions and some progressive ones ... But there’s something else important to them. “They also want someone who can run things, a person who can make things work,” Molyneux says....
There is, then, a way for Obama to inspire both the base and swing voters, and it’s absurdly simple: he needs to accentuate the items on which the two groups more or less agree and fight hard for them.
As it happens, the numbers bear this out. A recent Pew poll found that a majority of Dem-leaning independents — their Dem leanings are the key here — want Obama to fight Republicans harder, rather than to be more compromising with them.
What’s more, other polls suggest that there’s good reason for Obama to try to “accentuate” the items that Dems and independents agree on — and the Obama team is looking at those polls, too. The problem, in a nutshell, is that independents strongly disapprove of Obama’s overall performance on the economy — even as solid majorities of them support the individual provisions in his jobs bill, and solid majorities of them favor hiking taxes on the rich. And so Obama’s team hopes that aggressively accentuating the areas of policy agreement with independents is the way to win them back despite their generalized disapproval of his performance.
No matter how many times pundits falsely claim otherwise, his new tack is not just about winning back the “base.” It’s also about winning back those independents who are inclined to agree with Obama’s actual policy prescriptions and priorities. Right or wrong, that’s the gamble he’s made.