Just as you can never step into the same river twice, President Obama can't rely on his winning 2008 coalition to put him over the top in 2012. He'll have to build a new and different one. Complicating his task, according to a new PPI Political Memo by Anne Kim and pollster Stefan Hankin, is the eroding voting strength of a traditional mainstay of the progressive coalition -- organized labor.
Labor voters have shown remarkable consistency, favoring Democratic presidential candidates by 59 percent in the last four elections. However, note Kim and Hankin, labor's dwindling membership is translating in waning voting power: the union share of the total vote fell from 26 to 21 percent between 2000 and 2008. To offset that decline, Obama either will have to improve his performance among voters in union households, or among non-union households, or both. In either case, the authors argue in Union Voters and Democrats, the key is moderate voters.
Democrats win about the same percentage of liberal union voters as non-union liberals. It is their superior performance with union moderates that accounts for their traditional edge among labor households. A key implication of their analysis is that Obama likely won't lose union voters by tilting toward the political center; in fact, he might even pick up more of them.
The latest in PPI's series of Political Memos looking ahead to 2012, the Kim-Hankin analysis challenges the conventional view that organized labor is part of the Democratic "base," and offers a more nuanced view on its electoral impact. We think you'll find it interesting.