(Update) The Democratic ‘mid-term falloff’ problem

In the latest instalment of The Democratic ‘mid-term falloff’ problem, Steve Benen today writes The paradox of the 2014 midterms:

Gallup released an interesting poll last week showing the favorable/unfavorable ratings for the two major parties. The data was consistent with the other data: Democratic popularity, which has been pretty steady over last several years, far exceeds that of Republicans. Indeed, GOP popularity is actually pretty dreadful, hovering around its lowest point since 1998 – which coincidentally is the last time a two-term Democratic president was approaching his sixth-year midterms.

The same day, the New York Times’ Brendan Nyhan reported that Democrats also enjoy sizable advantages on which party the public trusts on the major issues of the day, including the economy.

As we discussed a couple of months ago, an observer who just arrived in the United States with no prior knowledge of our political system might look at the landscape and assume Democrats are positioned for a terrific year. Republicans have no accomplishments; they’re broadly unpopular; they’re on the wrong side of the major issues of the day; their agenda is out of step with the American mainstream; and not too long ago, they shut down the government for reasons that still don’t make any sense. Congressional ineptitude has reached unprecedented levels, and pretty much everyone understands that an uncompromising GOP is to blame.

ChrisHayesAnd yet, Republicans will almost certainly have a great year anyway, as a new Politico poll reminds us. The question probably haunts Democrats on a daily basis: why would Americans reward the party they don’t like and don’t agree with?

Ezra Klein’s explanation rings true.

The biggest problem with these kinds of questions is that the electorate isn’t made up of “voters.” It’s made up of people who actually go to the polls to vote. The Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Democrats actually have a one percentage point edge in voter intentions this year (which is, of course, inside the margin of error). But as Jaime Fuller notes, poll respondents who say they’re “certain” to actually go out and vote look a lot more Republican.

Then there’s what Nyhan calls “the structural factors.” He names “presidential approval, the state of the economy, the type of election (midterm or presidential year) and the composition of the seats that are up for election.” That last is particularly important this year. Democrats are defending 21 seats in the Senate to the GOP’s 15. If that number was flipped – as it more than will be in the 2016 election, where Democrats are expected to be defending 10 Senate seats to the GOP’s 24 – Democrats would be in much better shape.

Both of these observations are clearly correct, though the former is especially compelling.

Screenshot from 2014-05-11 09:19:08

Democratic leaders recognize the problem; they’re just not sure what to do about it. Robert Gibbs explained on “Meet the Press” recently, “We’re looking at a midterm election where the electorate is much less likely to look like a presidential, and much more to look like 2010,” which means an older, less diverse group of voters.

* * *

It’s not that rank-and-file Democratic voters never show up for midterm elections; it just seems to take quite a bit to get them engaged in non-presidential cycles. In 1998, for example, Dems turned out because Republicans had launched a ridiculous impeachment crusade. In 2006, Democrats showed up, fueled by outrage over Bush/Cheney and, among other things, opposition to the war in Iraq.

By all appearances, the party’s voters feel no comparable motivation this year. This, coupled with structural elements, helps make clear why being more popular and agreeing with voters on the issues they care about probably won’t make a difference.

What’s all this crap about “what’s my motivation?” or “what’s in it for me?” WTF is wrong with you, you self-absorbed narcissists? As a citizen of the United States, you owe a civic duty to vote. It is the bare minimum requirement of the privilege of your citizenship. Get off your ass, get registered, and VOTE!

2 responses to “(Update) The Democratic ‘mid-term falloff’ problem

  1. Folks who frequent this website are not the problem with the decline of representative democracy in America.

    We who visit here are involved in the process. We participate in the mix of banal, sometimes exciting and often strange machinations of public politics. Some of us are candidates or already officeholders. We vote in (almost) every election: municipal, county, state and federal.

    We make a deliberate, often inconvenient effort to show up to cast our ballot for or against any person or issue.

    “We” fully understand that if a majority of our country’s citizenry disengage from the process, the process will become subverted, and the Great American Experiment will fail. You sure don’t have to do much research to notice that thesis is valid.

    Its the “other” folks that we all know who expose all of us to the multiple dangers of complacency. People that we interact with every day – a majority of whom have regressed to an odd position of extreme apathy toward civic suffrage. It is perhaps fitting that – if the USA does fail – it is likely that apathetic citizens will suffer the most.

    What can be done about that? Beyond political party GOTV programs, volunteer drivers for the home-bound, and easing of the voting process, I suggest the following, which if done by every person on this Blog site will become a force for change.

    To borrow from the oft-repeated slogan of the Sierra Club, “Think Globally, Act Locally”, I use the thought toward my individual effort to get American citizens off their butts and into the polling places.

    Whenever one on one during a voting cycle, I ask people the following:
    “Have you voted yet? (If not) Your vote is important. Please – Vote!”