Could President Obama be the luckiest guy in politics? Maybe so. Despite the November 2 election debacle, his cellar-dweller ranking in approval polls, and his status as Washington's modern-day Rodney "I don't get no respect" Dangerfield, the best and brightest of the Democratic Party see him as a virtual shoo-in for re-election. Don't laugh. Democratic consultant James Carville and his Democracy Corps partner pollster Stanley Greenberg have an understandable explanation: The Democratic presidential electorate is younger, less white, unmarried, and growing. Democrats outnumber the GOP's older, whiter base—if they show up.
"When you get into a presidential election, it decidedly favors Democrats, and every year it is going to decidedly favor them more and more," says Carville. The duo, armed with polls, detail the changing demographics: Younger voters are leaning Democratic more, as are Hispanics, blacks, and unmarried women—all expanding constituencies. "Look at what's coming in 2012. Every election becomes less white," says Carville. "Republicans are forced to double down on older whites, which is, long-term, not a very productive place to be," he adds.
The result is so baked in that Obama won't have to work hard to win re-election in 2012, says Carville, Bill Clinton's political guru. "He has to do somewhat better; he doesn't have to do a whole lot better." Adds Greenberg, Obama probably won't even face a primary challenge, he "will be there by himself."
Then why did Obama's party lose control of the House, and get crushed in the Senate, in the midterms? They say the Democratic base doesn't vote heavily in those elections. In fact that trend, Carville suggests, could result in a reversal of the pattern that Democrats win congressional elections while Republicans take the White House. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
Keep dreaming, says GOP pollster David Winston. "While there is still a lot of work for Republicans to do, the re-establishing of the center-right majority coalition was a key first step," he says, explaining that in the midterms the GOP won Catholics and suburban voters, and improved among Hispanics and younger voters. "But the critical change was winning independents by 19 points, after having lost them by 18 in 2006," he says. Victory, Winston adds, is based not on voter demographics but on issues. "This was not a tactical loss, it was a strategic one in large part due to the lack of recognition by the Democrats of the center-right nature of the country."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.