Covering Your Bases
From the new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll:
We have added a new feature on our weekly national poll -- a gauge of voter intensity. The question offered to respondents is a simple question about their intentions for 2010:
QUESTION: In the 2010 Congressional elections will you definitely vote, probably vote, not likely vote, or definitely will not vote?
The results were, to put it mildly, shocking:
Voter Intensity: Definitely + Probably Voting/Not Likely + Not Voting
Republican Voters: 81/14
Independent Voters: 65/23
Democratic Voters: 56/40
Two in five Democratic voters either consider themselves unlikely to vote at this point in time, or have already made the firm decision to remove themselves from the 2010 electorate pool. Indeed, Democrats were three times more likely to say that they will "definitely not vote" in 2010 than are Republicans.
This tracks with other recent polling that shows the Democratic base being very depressed. I suspect there are a lot of reasons for that, but it doesn't portend well in a time of hysterical teabaggery. It's especially dangerous when those who are easily spun about election returns will interpret this as the country making a sharp turn to the right (with the Democrats subsequently trampling each other in the teabag line) instead of a disappointed left, which is not the same thing at all.
The Democrats are very likely to lose seats simply because coat tails almost always fall off in the midterms. But it's very bad news if the election is dominated by talk of rising conservatism, even if the congress is still in Democratic hands. However, if these numbers hold up, something very bad could happen that we don't even want to think about -- this radical rump GOP freakshow could wind up with subpoena power and a Democrat in the White House.
Mike Lux wrote a good piece on this a couple of weeks ago, in which he pointed out that the 1994 election, which was spun as an uprising of the angry white male, was actually no such thing. The angry white males came out to vote in their usual numbers. The problems then were who didn't vote:
I was in the Clinton White House in 1994 after we lost on health care, and these same demographic groups- young people, Latinos, unmarried women -- turned their back on us. I remember seeing the focus groups, and having the reports back from the doorknockers: these hard-pressed voters who had been so excited about Clinton in 1992 felt like he and the Democrats in Congress had let them down, and they had no enthusiasm for coming out to vote.
Managing expectations is a very tough task for Democrats. They almost always make big promises about social and economic justice --- that's what grassroots Democrats care about. And while those things are difficult to deliver right away, I'm astounded by the fact that Democrats don't pay more attention to this problem early in the term and make a concerted effort to deliver some short term results that can give their base reason to hang on to their enthusiasm.
Clinton was pretty good at speaking in several layers of code, but he had terrible problems in 1994, even though he delivered the economic plan he promised. And that's because that economic plan was based on the abstraction of reducing the deficit which is a conservative talking point --- even if not one Republican voted for it. He failed to get health care, of course, and passed NAFTA, another Republican initiative. (There was the retreat on DADT, too.) The base had little reason to believe that any of the things they cared about were priorities.
He personally won reelection two years later, but that was mostly because his rival was a doddering fool and the economy was coming around smartly. But there were no more big initiatives once the Republicans took congress, at least none that mattered to the base. So losing the congress is not something to fool around with unless the kind of political inertia Clinton faced is what you prefer.
Obama will probably get even less slack than Clinton did. The country is in terrible shape, there's a war and the right is far less politically potent (even if they are just as noisy.) I'm not sure using the Clinton playbook is very helpful. And for all their insistence that they are not following it, it would appear that the base, at least, thinks they are..
This could all change if HCR is passed and voters believe it is a good plan. At this point, it's hard to tell what they are going to think of it. (I'm guessing it's going to take a major sell job after it's passed, and who knows if that will work?) Waiting for the benefits to kick in for several years is just nuts.
I personally don't care much if some Blue Dogs lose their seats. I'm sure it will be interpreted by the gasbags as a sign that the Republicans are on the march even though it's far more likely they weren't in stable seats to begin with. But I really do not want to see the Democrats lose control of either house of Congress with nutbags who think Lindsey Graham is a screaming liberal in charge of the Republican Party. Only very, very bad things can come of that.
Update: These may be the single most demoralizing stories for the base of all.