Democrats had known there was an “intensity gap” between angry conservatives in the Republican Party and the unexcited Democratic base, and in a midterm election, base turnout often determines who wins the night. Yet no one suspected it was this bad.
Nonpartisan pollster Research 2000 conducts a large-scale weekly poll for Daily Kos measuring voter sentiment toward key Republican and Democratic leaders and the parties (2,400 respondents, for a margin of error of 2 percent). Last week’s edition featured the typical generic congressional ballot test, and Democrats held a 37-32 advantage, not atypical compared to most other polling on that question. In its most recent polls, CNN had Democrats up 49-43, while Pew was at 47-42. And while Gallup bucked the trend, with Republicans up 48-44, those exact generic congressional numbers aren’t as important for the 2010 midterms as precisely who will turn out. And right now, it’s looking brutal for the Democrats.
For the first time, I had Research 2000 ask, “In the 2010 congressional elections, will you definitely vote, probably vote, not likely vote or definitely will not vote?” The results were nothing short of cataclysmic:
Among Republican respondents, 81 percent said they were definitely or probably going to vote, versus only 14 percent who were definitely or not likely to do so. Among independent voters, it was 65-23. Among Democrats? A woeful 56-40: Two out of every five Democrats are currently unlikely to vote.
A look at key Democratic constituencies shows how demoralized the party’s base currently is. Among African-Americans, just 34 percent are likely to vote, versus 54 percent unlikely to do so. Republican-leaning white voters clocked in at 66-29. Only 41 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, a key constituency for Democrats in both 2006 and 2008, are likely to vote, compared to 49 percent likely to sit things out.
If these numbers hold for the next year, it won’t matter what those generic congressional ballot questions say, nor will it matter whether Democrats can increase their performance with independent voters. If base Democratic voters don’t turn out, like what happened in New Jersey and Virginia this year, Democrats will suffer at the ballot box.
Thus far, the progressive base doesn’t have much to be excited about. Promised real reform in healthcare, the environment, labor, the wars, civil liberties and gay rights, actual accomplishments have been decidedly thin. The healthcare debate dragged on far longer than necessary as Obama and some Democrats engaged in a fruitless and unnecessary search for “bipartisanship” while taking such options as reconciliation off the table. The end result may saddle people with costly insurance mandates without any mechanism to control ridiculously high rates — great for insurance industry profits, but not what progressives worked for the past two cycles. Progress on card-check and climate change legislation is stymied, while Obama doubles down on the Afghanistan quagmire. Institutions that were “too big to fail” got rich bailouts, while the rest of America continues to bleed economically. While there are 96 vacancies in the federal courts (over 10 percent of the 876 total), the Obama administration seems in little hurry to make an impact on a judiciary that took a significant turn to the right the last several decades; only 16 replacements have been nominated.
It’s not too late — yet — for Democrats to fire up their base, but it will require delivering on lofty campaign promises. And if party leaders themselves need inspiration, they need look no further than that magic number of 40 percent of moribund Democrats who plan on avoiding the ballot box in 2010.
Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com).