The Washington Post

The looming Obama enthusiasm gap

Folks on the right doubted that the coalition of young people, women and minorities, particularly African Americans, that put President Obama in the White House in 2008 would show up to keep him there in 2012. As the exit polls show, they most certainly did — big time. But will they show up when he’s not on the ballot?

It’s a question that shows up in stories about the intense soul-searching underway among Republicans. Today’s New York Times story on conservatives in Wyoming “feeling left behind” by the election results raised the issue.

The tide of minority voters that helped elect Mr. Obama in 2008 ebbed just two years later in a welter of populist anger over budget deficits, job losses and Mr. Obama’s agenda, allowing Republicans to retake the House and make gains in the Senate in the midterm elections. And there is no guarantee that the next Democratic presidential candidate will match Mr. Obama’s huge margins or turnout with minority voters.

A slide from the NAACP’s battleground poll shows how real a concern about minority turnout post-Obama is. The president got 93 percent of the African American vote. But when black Democrats in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Virginia were asked whether they would be enthusiastic about Democrats without Obama on the ballot, support nose-dives.


The promise of keeping his coalition mobilized after his 2008 election didn’t materialize. As Mike Allen reported today in Politico Playbook, Jim Messina’s e-mailed survey yesterday to millions of Obama supporters is a move to ensure the winning coalition stays engaged. This will come in handy as the president follows through on his promise to enlist the help of the American people in his forthcoming battles with Congress. If this enthusiasm can be transferred to the Democratic Party and its candidates in the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential campaign, then the worry would be for naught. But without Obama on the ballot, that’s a big if.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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