Obama’s Grand Bargain Could Destroy His Political Coalition

There are two keys to achieving real political dominance for the Obama coalition.  First, the Obama coalition must be mobilized beyond Presidential elections.  That means between elections in the struggle to achieve legislative victories and in Congressional elections, where turnout patterns must align more closely with Presidential elections.  Second, the Obama coalition must be widened to take in a larger share of the white working class.  Otherwise, the hostility of these voters will undercut public support for the President’s agenda, as well as remaining a lurking threat in every election, particularly Congressional ones.

Both of these objectives will be seriously compromised if strong growth does not return to the American economy and soon.  Take white working class voters.  These voters are primarily looking for material improvements in their lives, improvements that are not possible without strong economic growth and the jobs, tight labor markets and rising incomes such growth would bring.  In a low growth environment, these voters will remain exceptionally pessimistic and inclined to blame Democrats and government for their lack of upward mobility.

Even more serious, core groups of the Obama coalition will be weakened by continued slow growth.  Obama was well-supported by these groups in 2012, but a sluggish economic environment, where unemployment continues pushing 8 percent will try these voters’ patience.  How much enthusiasm will Hispanics, blacks, youth, single women, etc., whose unemployment rates are considerably above the national average, continue to have for a party that cannot do more to improve economic conditions?  Attrition in support will be inevitable in such a scenario and the opportunity to consolidate a dominant coalition will be lost.

So the stakes in the battle for more and faster growth are high.  But you would not guess that from the issues preoccupying Washington.  Instead, in the very same week when we received a dreadful jobs report—just 88,000 jobs were added to the economy—President Obama has made yet another attempt to revive a Grand Bargain with Republicans by outlining a budget plan that replaces the automatic sequestered spending cuts with other spending cuts while also raising $580 billion in revenue and making cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Whatever the other merits of this proposal may be, it will do nothing for economic growth and, in fact, will continue the ongoing pattern of spending cuts that are undermining our recovery and thereby the future prospects of the Obama coalition.  Grand Bargains are no substitute for growth and both consumers and voters know the difference.