Why is Hillary Clinton is tacking so hard to the left even though no semi-formidable leftist has yet expressed interest in opposing her for the Democratic presidential nomination? According to Anne Gearan of the Washington Post, the answer is that Hillary hopes to win the general election by assembling the same coalition that twice elected Barack Obama.
According to the Clinton advisers Gearan interviewed, the campaign has concluded (1) that she needs to harness the same coalition of “the young and the diverse” that Obama relied on, and bolster it with an even stronger appeal to women and (2) that thanks to social and demographic shifts, the left-leaning positions Clinton is taking will not hurt her among moderate and independent voters next year. Gearan’s sources say that these conclusions are based on polling data, focus groups, and gut feeling.
The first conclusion is true to this extent — Clinton’s prospects will be considerably brighter if she can assemble Obama’s coalition of the young and the diverse. But will tacking to the left accomplish this?
“The diverse” will surely support Clinton unless, perhaps, the Republicans nominate Marco Rubio, in which case Clinton probably won’t carry Hispanic voters to the extent Obama did. But will Blacks and Hispanics turn out for Clinton the way they did for Obama?
Strategists interviewed by Gearan say that Clinton contemplates an electorate that is 30 to 31 percent non-white. But in 2012, according to exit polls, non-white turnout was 28 percent. Demographics are shifting (non-white turnout was 25 percent in 2008), but it’s far from clear that Blacks will turn out for Clinton the way they did for the first African-American presidential nominee of a major party.
As for “the young,” does Hillary Clinton believe she can inspire them the way Obama did? I don’t. Her prospects for piling up big margins with this cohort rest far more on the hope that the GOP will nominate an unattractive candidate than on the appeal of leftist positions.
Now let’s turn to Team Clinton’s view that because of social and demographic shifts, left-leaning positions will not hurt her among moderate and independent voters. If this what Clinton’s polling shows, then the conclusion may be valid.
I wonder, though, whether the Clinton campaign isn’t “double counting.” Yes, demographic shifts mean that some moderate and independent voters (the young and diverse) will not be put off by leftism. But Clinton is already counting on big margins from these groups.
What about moderate and independent voters who aren’t young? Are they ready to accept a diet of leftist positions? If so, in what sense are they “moderate?”
Perhaps the best indication that Team Clinton is too sanguine about moderates and independents is Barack Obama’s approach to these groups. He didn’t openly take many left-wing positions in either of his two campaigns. Instead, he tried to come across as post-partisan, especially in 2008 when it was still plausible to view him this way.
Has Obama’s presidency transformed the nation to the point that it’s now safe to campaign for president from the left? Maybe. But this kind of transformation has always been associated with popular presidencies. Obama’s presidency doesn’t answer to this description.
Thus, Clinton’s formula for victory, though it may get her across the finish line, doesn’t seem compelling.