Broder: There are only so many liberals

David Broder has a very interesting piece in today’s Washington Post looking at the national ideological realignment of the early Obama era, and how it affects Democrats’ chances:

Sometimes the most important clues are hiding in plain view. That was the case in late June, when the Gallup Organization reported that the share of voters who describe themselves as conservative had increased from 37 percent to 42 percent in the past two years…[I]t was the highest percentage for conservatives in any such poll since Gallup started asking this question in 1992. The five-point gain came equally from the ranks of moderates and liberals, who fell to 35 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Broder writes that this means President Obama’s appeals to his liberal base may not as useful as they once were. You can charge up your 20 percent base as much as you like, but if your opponent’s base is twice as large, that’s a tough one, even if you’re not losing moderates the way Obama probably is.

Suppose Democratic candidates run as well as Obama did nationally in 2008, taking 20 percent of the conservatives, 60 percent of the moderates and 89 percent of the liberals. And suppose, too, that turnout rates are the same for all three groups.

With the updated Gallup figures, a 2010 Democratic candidate who matched Obama’s national percentages would win Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon and Washington. But, with more conservatives and fewer liberals in the mix, the Democrat would come up short in 13 other competitive states and barely break even in California, Illinois and New Hampshire. Among the big states where the numbers break against the Democrats are Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania….[I]f Gallup is right, and I believe its methodology is solid, there simply are fewer liberal votes to be won this time.

Remember — the assumption here is that our hypothetical Democratic candidates do as well as Obama did. In most places, that’s just not going to happen this year. It’s one more highly interesting way of looking at why the Democrats are in trouble.

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