Beltway pundits might be obsessed with “independent” voters, but midterm elections are all about base voter intensity. While it remains to be seen how motivated core Democrats will end up, there’s no denying that Republicans are fully amped. They have every reason to be — their entire worldview is crumbling around them.
Conservatives staked 2013 on a half-witted gambit to kill ObamaCare by holding the American economy hostage, all to no avail. While implementation woes gave succor to Republican foes of the new law, the glitches are being worked out, and millions of Americans have signed up for coverage. Technology is funny that way. Meanwhile, Republicans have painted themselves into a rhetorical corner — they claim it’s terrible that some people have lost their insurance because of new ObamaCare regulations, yet their entire 2014 campaign appears to be predicated on ripping away insurance from millions of newly insured.
2013 also saw a sea change in public opinion on core social issues, like marriage equality and marijuana legalization. Of the 17 states that now allow same-sex marriage, eight joined that enlightened club last year. There are 900 married same-sex couples in ultra-conservative Utah, of all places, and the legal wrangling over the state’s ban (just reinstated by the Supreme Court pending appeal) could very well provide the death knell for all marriage bans throughout the entire country. Based on opinion polls, the public would cheer.
Meanwhile, Colorado has become the first state to allow marijuana sales for recreational use, and efforts to replicate that ballot-box success are currently planned in states like Alaska, Maine and Montana. Fifty-eight percent of Americans now support legalization, according to Gallup — an increase of 10 points in just the last year. And as with marriage equality, the greatest opposition comes from respondents over the age of 65.
Demographics continue to dramatically alter the political landscape. Democrats swept all three of Virginia’s statewide offices for the first time since 1989, and for the first time ever, by running on an explicitly liberal platform. And they did it despite suffering their traditional off-year base voter drop-off.
For example, 18- to 29-year-olds went from 19 percent of the Virginia electorate in 2012 to 13 percent in 2013. Indeed, Republicans won the independent vote 47 percent to 38 percent, and it didn’t matter. The nonwhite vote continues to grow, and with it, Democrats’ ability to win even in former Southern conservative strongholds like Virginia in low-turnout, off-year elections.
And looking beyond 2014, the 2016 Senate map heavily favors Democrats, as does the presidential-year electorate.
Meanwhile, the last few years of Democratic governance have made significant changes to our legal and regulatory frameworks, such as the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The GOP’s relentless effort to filibuster even the most uncontroversial nominees was snuffed out by Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders and Schumer are right: Ellison for DNC chair The Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs MORE, allowing President Obama to more easily move his choices for government agencies and courts, like the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Conservatives are wounded animals, desperate to escape the corner they’ve backed themselves into. 2014 provides a handy outlet, a last gasp in defense of their dated and regressive world view. If Democrats stay home, Republicans might even win this round! But when your chances of victory in a battle depend on your opponent staying home, you’ve already lost the war.
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).