Several writers have questioned whether the results of 2014 indicate that it is much tougher to mobilize the Obama coalition of younger and nonwhite voters in elections where Obama is not on the ballot. Maybe, but maybe the main problem with the Obama coalition in 2014 was… Obama.
During the last weeks of the2014 campaign (and some weeks before that) Obama’s RCP average job approval rating bounced around between 41 percent and 43 percent. His disapproval rating bounced around between 52 percent and 54 percent. That left Democratic Senators in red (or even purple) states having to win over a large number of people who actively disapproved of Obama in order to win. I strongly suspect that if Obama’s national approval numbers had been like those in 2012 (approval ratings of 48 percent to 49 percent heading down the home stretch), Kay Hagan would have gotten a second term and Georgia would have gotten a run off. Would New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen have been better off if Obama (whose New Hampshire job approval almost exactly tracked his lousy national numbers) had been on the ballot? Maybe Obama would have mobilized some voters to go to the polls, but a president with such low numbers (and majority disapproval)seems at least as likely to mobilize from that larger group who think the incumbent is doing a lousy job.
So can the Democrats keep up their presidential election margins among African American, Latino, and younger voters when Obama is no longer on the ballot? Sure, I think they can continue to win around 93 percent of the African American vote and 70 percent of the Latino vote. Whether Democrats will continue to win those margins among those groups depends on whether Republicans can find away to get heard saying something intelligible and relevant to that fraction of Latino and African American voters who have right-of-center policy preferences, but who vote Democratic. The future health of the Obama coalition will depend partly on the actions of Obama’s political opponents.