Obama’s agenda undeniably will increase pressure on Democrats to maintain a high level of mobilization from their core supporters, because it seems guaranteed to provoke intense opposition and spirited turnout from conservatives. “It will antagonize the same groups of folks over and over again, and they will be spitting mad,” says William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former deputy policy director in the Clinton White House. “They will have been confronted and affronted on every front.” In that respect, Obama’s second-term direction has more in common with George W. Bush’s political strategy, which bet on mobilizing his base with bright-line disputes, than Bill Clinton’s, which put greater emphasis on persuading swing voters by bridging the differences between the parties.
Like some other centrist Democrats, Galston worries that Obama’s strategy could prove vulnerable if the party’s next presidential nominee can’t inspire as much turnout among minorities and millennials as he did, and thus must win a larger percentage of moderate white voters resistant to some of the president’s new priorities. Obama’s direction also presents a challenge for Democratic congressional hopes, and not just because turnout among the minorities and millennials now critical to Democratic success usually falls off in midterm elections. (That falloff was a critical factor in the GOP’s 2010 landslide.)
To hold congressional majorities, Democrats must win a larger share of conservative white voters than in presidential races. That’s because the two-senator-per state system exaggerates the influence of small preponderantly white rural states and also because the Democratic coalition tends to cluster around big cities, benefiting House Republicans in more exurban and rural districts. Redistricting has compounded that effect. Although Obama beat Mitt Romney by almost 5 million votes, Romney carried at least 225 of the 435 congressional districts, nearly final results show…
If nothing else, Obama’s course means that if Democrats are to recapture the House anytime soon, they will likely need to do so by maximizing their gains in districts that have large populations of minorities or suburban socially liberal whites, rather than the blue-collar and rural Blue Dog districts they stressed when they regained the majority in 2006. And that’s much more likely to happen in a presidential year such as 2016, when minorities and young people turn out in much larger numbers, than in an off year such as 2014, when the electorate tilts back toward the older whites largely opposed to Obama’s new thrust.