Nate Silver points out that this measure doesn't necessarily indicate who will win elections. Democrats may not have been paying as much attention as Republicans in 2006, but they won new majorities in both houses of Congress, quite a feat.
I look at this graphic and have several thoughts:
- Lots of people from a lot of perspectives feel they need something from government at the moment. Just as there are probably few atheists in foxholes (does anyone still know what that metaphor means?), there are few go-it-alone individualists during a financial meltdown and severe recession. The overall higher level of attention might have something to do with this.
- For the privileged, that's a scary thought -- hence the high degree of Republican attention.
- The recent Presidential campaign was cathartic national theaterpiece; we ended up with a President who understands he's enacting a national morality play and sometimes intentionally generates attention accordingly. Even people who didn't and don't like the outcome of that theatrical election may be hooked on the adrenaline surge.
- The group whose attention is down are Democrats. Democrats may be paying less attention because they are still breathing a huge sigh of relief that the Bush regime is gone.
- Similarly, when I help groups organize campaigns, I always stress that most people aren't paying attention to politics and don't want to. They'll only work on it if they feel their survival depends on doing so. And they don't want to be drawn into a perpetual series of fights. This creates a high hurdle for community groups trying to build a base through political campaigning. They have to cast a wide net to find a small number of stalwarts they can incorporate for the long term. I think Democrats may be learning that lesson in this season. Most people get tired of political fights and need periodic seasons away from the fray. Can the Democrats get their attention again?
We're acting paradoxically -- overall, we're both more interested than ever -- and yearning for a political off-season that will never come.