The Washington Post

Where will Obama's votes come from?

President Obama's presidency has discouraged American voters. They are less likely to vote than they have been in recent elections, and Democrats in particular seem to have lost their motivation.  In a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted July 19-22, only 39 percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting in the 2012 election than in previous elections, down from 61 percent who were more enthusiastic in 2008.  

More recent polling suggests Obama will have to win with a different formula than he had in 2008. The spike in turnout among young voters and African Americans that propelled his victory four years ago is not repeating itself.  In a Gallup poll from May to June, only 58 percent of voters ages 18-29 say that they are definitely likely to vote, down 20 percent from the same poll conducted in October to November 2008.  

Obama's attacks on private business further aggravate his problems and alienate suburban voters. So what is his winning coalition? I ask the question not to make a point, but because I sincerely can't figure out where his votes are going to come from. If he doesn't have very high turnout with African Americans and young voters, then he can't win in Florida or Virginia. Indiana and North Carolina, where he won four years ago, are already in Mitt Romney's column. 

I can't see his strategy for increasing turnout among his 2008 coalition or winning over anyone who opposed him four years ago. His contempt for the private sector and calls for punitive, economically insignificant tax hikes, combined with his matter-of-fact promises of more big government benefits doesn't win him any new supporters or enthuse the old ones. Obama could have a ceiling.

It isn't too late, but the attacks on Romney haven't worked. It is clear Obama needs fresh appeal. Along with showcasing Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention next month, Obama should ask him for advice. Obama has got to find a way to connect to moderate suburban voters or he will be stuck at around 46 to 48 percent.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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