The meme developing in the media is angry independent voters will take Democrats out behind the woodshed and deliver an epic thumping in November. A new analysis says it’s actually Democrats who hold their own destiny in their hand.
Michael Hals, a fellow with the New Democrat Network and the New Policy Institute says it’s what Democrats do between now and November that will decide the outcome of the midterms.
This is true for two reasons. First, a significantly greater number of voters now identify with or lean to the Democratic Party than to the GOP. Second, only a relatively small number of politically uninvolved and disinterested voters are independents that are completely unattached to either of the parties. As a result, the big election story in 2010 will be the extent to which the large plurality of Americans who call themselves Democrats shows up at the polls this fall, and not the voting preferences of unaffiliated independents or Republicans.
Hals argues that this election is not like 1994. That year, Republicans and Democrats were tied in party ID at 44% of the electorate. One year later, the GOP had a 3% advantage. This year, Democrats have the advantage in party ID.
In a June national survey conducted for NDN by highly regarded market research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, 47% of voting age Americans identified with or leaned to the Democratic Party, well above the 33% who identified with or leaned to the Republican Party and the 19% who claimed to be unaffiliated independents. Even among registered voters the Democratic advantage over the GOP was 11 percentage points (47% vs. 36% with unaffiliated independents dropping to 17%). These numbers were replicated in an early July Pew survey showing the Democrats with a 49% to 42% party ID lead over the Republicans among registered voters.
As is the case in virtually every U.S. election, almost all of those who identify with or lean to a party plan to vote for the candidates of that party this coming November. In the NDN poll, about 95% of both Democratic and Republican identifiers who have made a choice say they expect to vote this fall for the congressional candidate of the party with which they identify. Meanwhile, among the presumably decisive independents, almost two-thirds (61%) are as yet undecided in the race for Congress. The remainder is split almost evenly between the two parties, with 21% preferring the Republicans and 18% the Democrats.
Here’s the problem as Hals sees it. Republican identifiers are much more likely to be registered to vote than Democrats (90% to 84%). Democrats are much less enthusiastic about November’s election than Republicans. Hals says organization and a consistent message will help Democrats instead of turning the party to the right.
Conservative columnist, George Will, is certainly correct in noting that the Democratic disadvantage this year in voter enthusiasm and commitment could hurt the party in November. But his assertion that the lack of enthusiasm among Democratic voters stems from their party's being "at odds with an increasingly center-right country," is challenged by recent poll results.
The NDN survey portrays a country that is anything but center-right. A solid majority of Americans prefer a government that actively tries to solve the problems facing society and the economy (54%), rather than a government that stays out of society and the economy to the greatest extent possible (31%). Three-quarters of Democrats (76%), and just over half of independents (52%), favor an activist government, while 60% of Republicans want a laissez faire approach.
Hals says Democrats need to not focus their efforts on attracting independent voters. Rather, they need to work on getting voters who identify with them registered and to the polls in November.