Lately, we have been inundated with statistics based projections for November. Though I do love statistics and modeling, what underlies the data is something very simple. In order to win elections, you must turn out your base and persuade a certain number of movable voters to vote for you. It really is that simple. Obviously, the number of movable voters you need depends on a few factors- size of your base, size of opponent’s base, estimates of turnout, and potential anomalies.
Herein lies the problem for Democrats as November approaches- our base is not motivated, and neither are a good chunk of our 2006 and 2008 movables. Most polling shows very close races when using registered voters. However, when the screen of likely voters is used, Democrats are faring quite horribly.
This enthusiasm gap is the product of several factors. It is hard to ignore the disappointment some activists Democrats feel towards the administration and the Party in general. But I think some of this is overblown and results, at least in part, from the netroots’ echo-chamber. (Full disclosure- I count myself among those who are disappointed and online.) The average non-activist/non-netroots Democratic voter is not turning away from voting in November because Harry Reid can’t get Obama’s judicial nominees through the Senate.
Instead, Democratic voters are disappearing because they expected more to be done on the economy. Sure, some may be disappointed by the compromised health care reform bill, but what they really want are jobs and economic stability. (I’ll leave aside the discussion of how realistic it is to fix eight years of damage in twenty months.) I would argue, too, that a prime reason Democratic voters are not enthusiastic is that they do not perceive the threat of a GOP takeover.
It is a far easier task to rally the base for change than it is to maintain that momentum over the course of three elections. Change is infinitely more appealing, on an emotional level, than stay the course. So the task at hand for Democrats is to energize their base by explaining the very real dangers to progress that a Republican House and/or Senate would be. And, they must make clear to movables that there has been progress over the past twenty months, that the economy is getting better, and that but for the stimulus we would be in much more dire straits. (In a normal year, Democrats could also try to suppress Republican turnout. I do not think much of that is possible this year.)
Over the past two weeks the administration has shown they get it. And while I wonder if maybe it was too little, too late, it is hard to argue with the team that ran one of the most technically proficient presidential campaigns in my lifetime. It will take a combination of the White House political team, with its agenda setting power, and other Democrats stepping up, with a helpful assist from the teabaggers and their extremist candidates, to craft a winning strategy for November. There may still be just enough time to save us.