Sunday, September 26, 2010

What Democrats are up against in November election

All the political media scream "enthusiasm gap!" As Evan McMorris-Santoro cogently explained

... polls show Republican voters are super-extra-with-sugar-on-top excited to cast their protest votes against President Obama and his socialist cronies this November while Democrats are -- to put it mildly -- a lot less jazzed about casting a vote for the team currently in charge.

What's going on here? Every commentator around is offering their take -- I will not resist the temptation to add mine.
  • We must all start with the obvious -- somehow "the recession has ended" and as many as nearly 20 percent of the people who want to be working aren't working. That's a hell of a headwind for the party in power.
  • Now maybe, if the Democrats were percieved to be fighting for the people the economy is hurting, they'd have folks at their backs. But instead this descriptive snark seems all too apt. We see

    ... earnest, articulate, intelligent but not terribly effective or inspiring Democrats vs. bumbling, idea-less, Republicans offering up the very best ideas of the Goldwater for President campaign to solve the problems of 21st century America.

  • And that's a downer. Most people don't follow politics or policy closely. In fact I think it is fair to say that most people engage with politics to try to prevent awful outcomes that would upset what they regard as their real lives. As Nate Silver reminds us "voting is principally an emotional act..." This makes "throw the bums out" an easy political message.
  • Another fraction of electorate only does politics when it is inspired or at least promised what I urge campaigns to make themselves: "the best party in town." (A party in Iceland knows this: they named themselves Best Party and won elections in Reykjavik. I love it!) The new and infrequent voters who were there for Barack Obama in 2008 included a lot of this kind of people. As the person who writes as "slinkerwink" recently pointed out:

    The implicit message was that in voting for him (instead of doing the usual voting against a Republican candidate as Democratic voters are told to do so these days), the voter would experience change that could be felt immediately and directly in their lives. The difference was that voters were excited, enthused, and ready to vote FOR Senator Barack Obama, rather than holding their noses to vote AGAINST Senator McCain.

    People who run campaigns (and I've done this myself) can be deadly tone-deaf when reaching out to the people who want to vote FOR someone. Political experience tends to blunt the hope side of the yin/yang, leaving fears in the forefront.
  • Polling suggests that some large portion of people who might lean to Democrats are still breathing the welcome sigh of relief that came with the end of George W. Bush's ugly tenure in 2009. It is still sinking in that the loony right might be on the way back. Here's Josh Marshall:

    ... as PPP notes, Dems seems really out to lunch on what seems to be brewing on election day. But it also suggests that a lot of the lack of enthusiasm is tied to not thinking anything particularly bad is going to happen for their party. So if the stakes and the foreboding climate become more clear, that could get Democratic base voters more jazzed up to turn out to vote.

    Much of the Democratic campaign has to be to convince people that they need to play defense, however tiresome that may feel.
  • More recent polling points to another fascinating reality:

    Democrats staying home aren't necessarily disappointed with how things have gone so far. The Democrats not voting are more pleased with how Obama's done than the Democrats who are voting. And when you're happy you simply don't have the sense of urgency about going out and voting to make something change.

    It's the Democrats who have been paying attention who are both most distressed by the Obama administration's failure to deliver on many promises and most likely to vote -- presumably out of fear of Republicans.
What's to be learned here? Perhaps that a steady diet of fear won't sustain electoral majorities. The Republicans ran into the limits of fear (maybe I should simply call it "terror") as a motivator in 2006. Democrats are running into the limits of fear of Teabaggers and Republicans in this cycle.

I'll be working to keep and put as many Dems in office as possible because I believe the country is better off with Dems in power, even though what we've gotten so far from the Obama administration is very disappointing. But that's not a rousing affirmation for anyone to run on.


Thomas Nephew said...

About that last item (Dems not voting are more pleased with how Obama's done than the Dems who are voting): he seems to derive that by subtracting state LV Obama approvals among voters from national registered Obama approval. I'd be more convinced if he'd subtracted state LV approval from state registered approval.

Thomas Nephew said...

But it rings true for me personally; I'm coming out to vote in MD, and will hold my nose to some extent and vote for O'Malley over Ehrlich; if she were in trouble, I might vote for Mikulski despite myself. I'm dissatisfied with Obama, but for entirely different reasons than I assume other "dissatisfieds" are. Meanwhile, I'm trying to fundraise for other candidates with my own little ActBlue fundraising drive for threatened progressive/progressivish candidates: >>Feingold<<, Grayson, Kilroy, Murphy, Sestak, Clark, (also Grijalva, Pingree, Doggett, though they're apparently OK for now). So by now I've raised $870 for selected Dems -- and I'm not that nuts about the party leadership including Obama.

I hope Jensen and PPP tease out who's staying home and who isn't a little more -- because come the tsunami I just *know* it'll be the 'professional Left' etc. getting the blame.

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