As the republican primary season winds down, the Obama and Romney campaigns are formulating strategies for speaking to and swaying the electorate. Recent actions and speaking engagements of those associated with the Obama campaign suggest Vice President Joe Biden and others closely associated with the campaign will play an integral role in the run up to the general election.
It’s not news young people have been an important demographic for Obama since his campaign first began gathering momentum leading up to the 2008 election. A POLITICO article published on April 17, 2012 discusses outreach to this demographic through a rally featuring Biden in Washington D.C. The vice president highlighted the successes of the Obama Administration and criticized the GOP for issues like the debates over healthcare and contraception.
On April 18, 2012, Biden participated in an event to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is facing some pushback from conservatives, according to msnbc.com.
Taken together, these events and Biden’s prominent involvement in them, point to the Obama campaign’s efforts to woo its liberal base and key supporter demographics. Using the vice president as the mouthpiece for the campaign on issues, such as those discussed above, is a deliberate maneuver by Obama’s reelection effort.
If Biden speaks to an issue, it brings a certain legitimacy and importance to the subject. The vice president’s voice proves the campaign is concerned about domestic violence protections, contraceptive rights and access to healthcare without President Obama needing to spend much of his political capital and time speaking to the issues.
Biden’s public appearances do not garner the same media attention as those of Obama. The president’s words are more likely to reach apolitical or less engaged citizens and there is more likely to be analytical debate and criticism of his talking points. Both of these realities makes it more practical for Biden to speak to issues that are meant more to mobilize the Democratic Party’s base than sway independent voters.
Mobilizing the party’s base is less about winning votes from a candidate’s opponent as it is about garnering volunteers and turning out issue voters. Those in Obama’s base aren’t going to vote for Romney because he didn’t address domestic violence as thoroughly as they would have hoped, but they might not volunteer for the campaign in the numbers they did in 2008. This is not a risk Obama can take, as this election is likely to be closer than the last and campaign organization will play an extremely important role but high-level campaign officials can likely achieve the president’s mobilization goals. Obama’s role in his reelection efforts should be focused on a different demographic.
Polarization in American politics is high, just as it has been for the better part of the last decade. What this means for sitting presidents, like President Obama, is those who formed a strong opinion either for or against him during the 2008 election have likely solidified that position and will not change their perspective during this election cycle. Essentially, those who are on your side need to be engaged but probably not convinced. On the other hand, those who were unsure after the 2008 election are more likely to be persuaded to vote for the incumbent than the candidate challenging the president, if all other determining factors are held constant, according to Burden and Hillygus’ research in “Opinion Formation, Polarization, and Presidential Reelection.”
President Obama’s should his own time and political capital to focus on capturing those who were unsure leading up to 2008 but who were more likely to be persuaded by the president’s performance over his first term and the information they have gathered while he has been in office. Leave the base mobilization to those who are less likely to garner widespread media attention but are still closely connected to Obama’s reelection effort in order to make the most of the campaign’s communication and outreach capabilities.