Many Democrats, including the president, seem to be pinning their hopes on lighting a fire under the liberal base of the party to hold off a Republican surge.But polls hold some sobering news for Democrats counting on liberals to rescue them.Anne Kim analyzed the numbers for the moderate Democratic think tank, Third Way. "Liberals make up the smallest share of the electorate. They've always historically been around 20-22 percent of the electorate, right now they're 20 percent of the electorate. Mathematically," she says with a healthy degree of understatement, "you don't win elections with 20 percent."
But that isn't the only complication for Democrats. While liberals are declining, conservatives are growing. From 2008 to 2010, the number of people who identify themselves as conservatives has increased from 37 percent to 42 percent.The number of moderates has declined from 37 to 35 percent.And the number of liberals has dropped from 22 to 20 percent.
Why the dramatic shift, especially toward conservatives? Larry Sabato is a political analyst at the University of Virginia and explains, "It is because we're a moderate country - we don't want to go too far to the right or too far to the left. We like to build balance into the system, so in a sense voters become ballast for the system."
Nevertheless, President Obama was out trying to stir up the party's liberal base again today, pleaded "On November 2, I'm going to need you just as fired up as in 2008."Larry Sabato says, "It's pretty clear he's trying to reestablish the connection with both minority voters and young people. They comprise a majority of the liberal base of the Democratic party."
But the increase in conservatives creates a political and mathematical dilemma for Democrats. In 2008, President Obama prevailed by winning 89 percent of liberals, 60 percent of moderates, and a surprising 20 percent of conservatives.
But Kim found that in 16 of the 21 most competitive states, even repeating that performance this year wouldn't be enough.
For instance, Kim points to the struggle of Democrats like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. "In places that have seen a pretty big red shift such as Arkansas, it means that the candidate is going to have to outperform President Obama by more than 20 points with moderates."
And though many moderates think Obama is too liberal, those on the left complain he isn't liberal enough. So how does President Obama reconcile those conflicts in the next three weeks?
One comforting fact for Democrats --- Republicans will need moderates too.