The Center for American Progress, a Democrat-oriented think tank, issued an excellent new paper this week on the 2012 presidential election.
Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin have long advocated that a new Democrat majority is in the offing:
"[T]e shifting demographic composition of the electorate – rising percentages of communities of color, single and highly educated women, Millennial generation voters, secular voters, and educated whites living in more urbanized states or more urbanized parts of states – clearly favors Democrats and has increased the relative strength of the party in national elections in recent years. In contrast, the Republican Party's coalition of older, whiter, more rural, and evangelical voters is shrinking and becoming more geographically concentrated and less important to the overall political landscape of the country."
In short, the Democrat base is growing in swing states while the Republicans are shrinking or becoming increasingly geographically isolated.
There is considerable support to the idea that a permanent realignment to a Democrat majority is underway, driven by these demographic changes.
However, this demographic shift is running up against the reality of a stalled recovery in key battleground states.
Unemployment is at 9 per cent in the United States, and no president in the past 50 years has been reelected with unemployment as high as that.
President Barack Obama's public opinion support is also running below 50 per cent in most states. Were the election held today, and his job approval shifted over directly as the Democrat vote, Obama would not be reelected.
The situation is especially grim because the slow recovery is being felt heavily in many of the key swing states. Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada all have double digit unemployment.
Teixeria and Halpin note that if the Republicans can make the election a referendum on the economy, they will be able to maximize their chances of winning.
Of course, forecasting elections a year away ignores the impact of a campaign. By spending a record amount, the Obama campaign's impact should be powerful.
The Obama strategy is obvious. They will raise a record amount of money and use it to demonize the Republican nominee in key swing states, turning the referendum on Obama into a choice between the lesser of two evils. "I may have gotten some things wrong, but (Romney/Perry/Cain/Gingrich) will get everything wrong." That could boost Democrat turnout while minimizing losses among independents.
Demographics will boost the Democrats in the long-term, but in 2012, the election will depend on the psychographics that inform a hard-hitting negative ad.