The ‘Yes We Can’ orphans: Obama’s missing constituency

By Clifford Young and Julia Clark
September 6, 2012

By all accounts, the 2012 presidential election will be a squeaker – probably no more than a point or two in the popular vote will separate the candidates. Such close elections put a special premium on getting one’s base out to vote and targeting the small, yet important, group of “undecided voters”.

We already see both sides doing just this. On the one hand, the undecided voter – about 10 percent of the electorate – is most concerned about “jobs and the economy.” Both Romney and Obama have scrambled over the last month to try to establish credibility on this issue and, in turn, to undermine the credibility of their opponent.

Most analysts define undecideds as self-declared independents or those who have not expressed an opinion at the voting intention question (“unsure”, “refused” or “don’t know” responses). An often overlooked but much more precise way of thinking about this group is to understand them as alienated and disaffected voters – people who voted for one candidate in one election but do not plan to vote for that same candidate next time.

Obama won in 2008 by a healthy seven-point margin (53 to 46) in the popular vote, attracting a large and diverse coalition of voters. According to poll aggregators like Real Clear Politics and Pollster.com, Obama has maintained a small but consistent one-to-two-point lead over Romney for the last few months; 2012 is not shaping up like 2008. So what happened to Obama’s coalition? Or more precisely, where is the missing 6 percent?

To answer these questions, we analyzed 26,005 interviews from our Reuters-Ipsos presidential online tracking polling, conducted between June 3 and Aug. 29, 2012.

So what did we find?

Ultimately, we found two distinct groups: Disaffected Obama Voters, those who voted for Obama in 2008 but don’t plan to vote at all in 2012, and Alienated Obama Voters, those who voted for Obama in 2012 but plan on voting for Romney in 2012.

 

Alienated Obama Voters Those who voted for Obama in 2008 but plan to vote for Romney in 2012 5%
Disaffected Obama Voters Those who voted for Obama in 2008 but don’t plan to vote at all in 2012 1%

 

Disaffected Obama voters make up about 1 percent of the voting electorate, while alienated Obama voters total about 5 percent of the electorate. Who are these voters?

 

Demographic Variable Alienated Obama Voters Disaffected Obama Voters All Registered Voters
Race White Only 73% 69% 69%
Black Only 5% 17% 12%
Hispanic 15% 9% 13%
Others 7% 5% 6%
DK/Ref 0% 0% 1%
Education No college 35% 51% 39%
Some college 31% 26% 30%
College or more 34% 23% 31%
DK/Ref 0% 0% 0%
Sex Male 54% 39% 48%
Female 46% 61% 52%
DK/Ref 0% 0% 0%
Age 18 thru 24 6% 17% 10%
25 thru 34 18% 22% 17%
35 thru 44 18% 23% 17%
45 thru 54 21% 16% 19%
55 or more 36% 23% 37%
DK/Ref 0% 0% 0%
Party Identification Democrat 32% 50% 45%
Republican 45% 16% 37%
Independent 19% 18% 13%
None/DK/Ref 5% 16% 6%

 

The group of disaffected Obama voters, though the smaller of the two, is more Democratic and has a more traditional Democratic base profile: more female, non-white, and liberal, less educated, younger. This group is also, for the most part, disengaged, with 54 percent having mixed feelings or no feelings toward Obama and his policies (see table below). Most probably, this is a segment that traditionally does not vote but was swept up by “Obamamania” in 2008.

 

Question Response options Alienated Obama Voters Disaffected Obama Voters All Registered Voters
Overall, do you approve, disapprove or have mixed feelings about the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President? Approve 6% 10% 28%
Disapprove 57% 35% 38%
Have mixed feelings 37% 54% 32%
Don’t know 1% 2% 2%

 

In contrast, alienated Obama voters make up approximately 5 percent of the electorate – a much larger and politically more significant segment. Unlike disaffected Obama voters, the alienated are much more Republican in profile. Indeed, overall they tend to be male, older, more white and Republican, though more moderate politically. They also demonstrate a strong rejection of Obama and his policies, especially when it comes to jobs and the economy, healthcare, and the deficit. At this point, Obama is not at all credible on most issues with them.

 

Question Response options Alienated Obama Voters Disaffected Obama Voters All Registered Voters
Healthcare – In your opinion, which candidate for President has a better plan, policy or approach to each of the following? Barack Obama, Democrat 13% 13% 39%
Mitt Romney, Republican 53% 17% 30%
None 19% 49% 16%
Don’t know 14% 22% 15%
The US Economy – In your opinion, which candidate for President has a better plan, policy or approach to each of the following? Barack Obama, Democrat 7% 11% 34%
Mitt Romney, Republican 65% 15% 34%
None 15% 50% 16%
Don’t know 13% 24% 16%
Jobs and employment – In your opinion, which candidate for President has a better plan, policy or approach to each of the following? Barack Obama, Democrat 7% 23% 35%
Mitt Romney, Republican 66% 7% 34%
None 14% 45% 16%
Don’t know 13% 25% 15%
The federal government deficit – In your opinion, which candidate for President has a better plan, policy or approach to each of the following? Barack Obama, Democrat 6% 12% 29%
Mitt Romney, Republican 63% 15% 33%
None 14% 47% 19%
Don’t know 18% 26% 19%

 

So what does this all mean?

The 2012 presidential election will be “a game of inches” where even half-points will matter. This places a premium on targeting undecided groups. And one such target should (and will) be those 2008 Obama voters who don’t plan on voting for the president in 2012. Both candidates must target them and already have done so in their communication and outreach.

Obama needs to employ a twofold strategy with these voters. First, for disaffected voters, this will include a combination of “get-out-the-vote” initiatives and good old populist scare tactics. To wit, the Obama campaign has been trying to cast Romney as a heartless economic elitist, unconcerned about women and their reproductive rights, and an enemy of Medicare and Medicaid – all issues dear to this group.

Second, for alienated voters, Obama needs to pick his battles. Indeed, much of this group (57 percent) is already lost to him. That said, approximately 37 percent of the alienated voters have lukewarm or mixed feelings toward Obama – they neither love him nor hate him. These “ambivalent alienated” voters still are within Obama’s reach.

In contrast, Romney needs to have a laser focus on what alienated Obama voters are most concerned about: jobs, jobs, jobs. Not only is this issue number one on their agenda but Obama has no credibility on it with them. Romney seems to be on track. During his convention speech last week, he hit the jobs issue over and over again. Indeed, as he put it: “What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound. It doesn’t take a special government commission to tell us what America needs. What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.” Let’s see if he can stay on this simple message. We have our doubts.

The “Yes We Can” orphans are shaping up to be the final arbiters of who will live in the White House in 2013. Ironic, no? Who ever heard of orphans deciding on the domicile of their parent? Only in the strange world of American politics.

One comment

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But it is not only the jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy that have alienated many voters – we look at the expanded Patriot Act, the NDAA, the wars, the billions going to other countries, the number of poor and hungry in our country (46 million on food stamps and facing food shortages and much higher pices in 2013), the immigration policies of this administration.

We are not “one trick ponies”, focusing on one problem or two but many that concern us. Are we 100% happy with the opposition? Maybe not – but we are very disillusioned and disappointed after voting for “hope and change” and seeing the same or worse conditions.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive