Friday, March 11, 2011

The Energizing Of Democratic Voters

It's no argument that the 2010 election was something of a disaster for the Democratic Party. They didn't just lose the House (and several seats in the Senate), they lost it big -- giving the Republicans a significant majority and the ability to kill anything the Democratic Senate or White House might propose. And that loss carried over into state elections, giving Republicans control of many state governments.

Why did this happen? Did Americans decide Republicans could do a better job? For one thing, a lot of voters stayed home. The 2008 election had a voter turnout close to 62%, while in 2010 the turnout fell to around 41%. But that is not unusual for an off-year election. The turnout was actually about what is normal for an off-year election. The difference is in who voted and who didn't.

After their total embarrassment in 2008, Republicans were very upset. They hadn't just lost control of both Congress and the White House, they had lost the White House to an African-American (and one perceived to be a liberal at that)! The social conservatives in the Republican Party were already pretty energized, but 2008 showed they just don't have the numbers to swing a national election (although they do well in some Southern states). But the ascendancy of more liberals to Congress and an African-American president brought them some help.

All of a sudden two more elements of the Republican Party became as energized as the social conservatives -- the economic conservatives (with their corporate friends) and the racists. Both of these groups came forward (forming the backbone of the teabagger movement) and the Republicans were once again unified and energized. Funded by corporate interests, like the Koch brothers and their ilk, they were able to sustain this energy and bring it into the 2010 election.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Independents who had tended to vote Democratic became disillusioned. They had put the Democrats into power to fix the economy and do something about the broken health care system. But the Democrats (and the president) squandered their opportunity and failed to fix either problem. Their response to the economy and job creation was timid and tepid, and failed to have much positive effect. And the health care reform, while fixing some problems, was complicated and really didn't fix the broken system.

These voters were left wondering if any politician of either party could be counted on to help ordinary Americans who were hurt by the recession and the health care system (which was still broken). Far too many of these disillusioned voters stayed home on election day in November 2010. They voted in smaller numbers than normal, while energized Republican voters voted in larger numbers than normal. The result was a Democratic disaster.

How were the Democrats going to fix this and energize their own base before the 2012 election? If they didn't they could face another electoral disaster (since the Republicans were buoyed by their victory and likely to remain energized). They couldn't now step forward with bold new job creation programs (even if they had the political courage, which they have not shown they have) because the Republican House would just kill them. What was to be done.

Well, amazingly enough, the Republicans are coming to the rescue of the Democratic Party. Instead of realizing they won the 2010 election by default, they seem to think they have a mandate to reinstitute their failed economic policies (of more money for the rich) and go even further by dismantling both federal and state safety nets for both working and middle class Americans.

The flashpoint for this was in Wisconsin. It was there where Americans saw and began to understand what the Republicans truly want to do -- lower taxes for the rich and corporate interests while taking away collective bargaining rights, education funds and other help for everyone else. It was not just a revolt by state workers, but polls show the majority of voters across America were appalled by the Republican actions -- not only in Wisconsin but also many other states.

Couple these mean-spirited state government actions with the recent cuts proposed by U.S. House Republicans -- where they protected the bloated military budget, continued unneeded subsidies (giveaways) for giant corporations, killed the new Wall Street regulations, and gave the rich massive new tax breaks (and want to give them even more), while cutting almost everything else (Headstart, education, health care reform, the EPA, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc.). Now they want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

The upshot of all this is that Democratic voters are becoming as energized as Republican voters -- not because of anything Democrats have done, but because of the draconian overreaching of the corporate-owned Republicans. Not only have people been turning out to demonstrate against these actions, but poll after poll is showing the majority of Americans oppose what the Republicans are trying to do.

Nate Silver, author of and one of the most respected analyzers of polls in the country, believes the Republicans have energized Democratic voters. I agree with him. By trying to shove through unpopular programs to benefit their corporate and rich buddies, the Republicans are in the process of committing political suicide. They are reminding voters why they felt it necessary to vote Democratic in 2008 and encouraging them to do it again in 2012.

It looks like the voters may be energized to once again boot the Republicans out of office in 2012 -- not because of anything Democrats have accomplished, but to protect themselves from the Republican policies.


  1. Both you and Nate Silver have missed an important part of the Republican landslide of 2010: the winning not only of the House of Representatives, but a large number of state legislatures as well.

    According to this Real Clear Politics article from shortly after the election (some races were still not decided), the GOP "flipped at least 14 chambers, and have unified control of 25 state legislatures. They have picked up over five hundred state legislative seats, including over 100 in New Hampshire alone."

    The major significance of this is the timing of the takeover: at the beginning of the redistricting cycle that only occurs once every 10 years (following the census).

    With only a few exceptions (e.g. California and Florida), state legislatures are tasked with drawing the boundaries of congressional districts. As the article shows, this can have a profound effect on the outcome of congressional elections. And even though governors can have a moderating effect on this process, the fact that so many Republican governors were also elected in 2010 doesn't help the Democrats in this regard.

    Energizing the base is an important factor in winning elections, but for the next decade, the Democrats will be faced with the additional hurdle of challenging Republicans in districts that have been tailor made by (and for) the GOP.

  2. I haven't overlooked that, and I admit it could help Republicans to a degree. But there are a couple of things that can limit this effect. First, as in Texas, the safest Republican districts are in rural areas, and these areas will lose some seats. Most of the population growth is in urban areas, where it is harder to draw a safe Republican seat. Second, I believe that a large turnout favors Democrats and a completely energized electorate would be an advantage for Democrats.


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