Last year, Republicans learned the hard way that lessons from the 2010 midterms weren’t translatable to 2012 — the types of voters who showed up at the polls were demographically different from the presidential cycles. In 2010, 77 percent of the electorate was white; in 2012, that number dropped to 72 percent. Young voters under the age of 30 made up a scant 12 percent of the 2010 electorate, but nearly comprised one-fifth of the vote in 2008 and 2012. Those who believe the Democratic Party is ascendant believe the longterm trend lines are clear: The emerging parts of the electorate favor Democrats and Republicans are doomed to irrelevance unless they move to the center, pronto.
But the changing nature of the Democratic coalition also means the party is dependent on these traditionally apathetic voters — under-30s and minorities — turning out in nonpresidential years to protect the president’s congressional wing. In 2012, they proved that they were energized to support Obama for another term, even under tough times. They haven’t yet shown they will show up in off-year elections, even as they’re essential to pass his second-term agenda.
Making things more complicated for the White House is that, perhaps for the last time, the majority-makers in this cycle’s Senate class hail from the declining moderate-to-conservative wing of the party, and their survival is dependent on keeping at least some distance from the president. Yet with most Senate Republicans instinctively opposed to helping Obama, the success of his legislation is dependent on enough of them taking one for the team. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told The Washington Post that at least 10 members of his caucus would take a major hit over gun control. He’s been suspiciously silent on the White House’s proposals.