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Tilting at Windmills

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September 24, 2010

QUANTIFYING THE ENTHUSIASM GAP, CONT'D.... Looking at the recent trend on the congressional generic ballot, it's tempting to think Republicans "peaked" in August and the landscape is getting more competitive. For Democrats looking for a morale boost with just 39 days until the midterms, this is a good reason not to give into despair.

But I feel like the enthusiasm gap continues to be the one factor in this campaign that's likely to make all the difference -- if it doesn't close, Dems may very well lose everything; if it does close, the political world is in for a big surprise.

The new Associated Press-GfK Poll, for example, reinforces what we've seen from other recent surveys -- Democrats are unpopular; Republicans are more unpopular. (In 1994, this wasn't the case.) What's more, Americans "overwhelmingly fault Bush more than Obama for the recession."

But then there's that enthusiasm gap.

Reflecting that discontent, 54 percent who strongly dislike Democrats in the AP-GfK Poll express intense interest in the election, compared with just 40 percent of those with very negative views of Republicans. Extreme interest in the campaign is expressed by nearly 6 in 10 saying their vote in November will signal their opposition to Obama. Only about 4 in 10 say they want to show support for the president with their vote.

Overall, 49 percent of those supporting their Republican congressional candidate are very interested in the election, compared with 39 percent of those backing the Democrat in their local race.

Similarly, the Pew Research Center released its latest report yesterday, and the results make this point even more clearly.

When registered voters are asked which party's candidates they're more likely to support, Democrats actually lead by three, 47% to 44%, Among likely voters, there's a 10-point swing in the other direction, with Republicans up by seven, 50% to 43%.

President Obama's remarks at a party fundraiser on Wednesday night ring true: "The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference. It's people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands."

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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The types of enthusiasm available on the Titanic were limited in scope.

Posted by: Dredd on September 24, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

If the WH and the House and Senate Democrats realize that they have an enthusiasm problem, why don't they do something to generate enthusiasm instead of caving? They could have brought the tax cut extension for normal people up for a vote and forced the Republicans to stand either for or against the people. But, NOOOO. They crumpled. If they aren't going to fight for us, why should we fight for them?

Posted by: Texas Aggie on September 24, 2010 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

i have been on the phones for months now in pa and the level of ignorance and apathy is extremely high. however!!!! when engaged and informed, the voters seem to wake up-so PLEASE, no matter how pissed off your are, get to work for the better candidates in your state and don't give up the one tool we still have-the vote!

ps. my first campaign was for McGovern, so i am intimately acquainted with frustration.

Posted by: sue on September 24, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

"The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference. It's people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands."

President Obama has just described his adminstration to a "Tea!"
Christ, I'll not only vote, I'll do what I can to help the D Congressman in my district. He's done ok, and the alternative is far, far, worse.

I have on question, though. Why, when the Republicans pull out their political version of the game of RISK, do Democrats alway pull out their Tiddlywinks and think they can compete?

Sometimes I'm sorry I'm a Democrat because it's such a sorry Party...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on September 24, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I feel just like Texas Aggie. On the other hand, while I would tell any pollster that I feel like I should stay home in Nov., I won't do actually do it. I'll go vote. And I expect a lot of Dems will do so, too, in the end.

I've gotta say, though--if the Democrats were trying to get their base disgusted, they couldn't have done a finer, more thorough job of it.

Posted by: Winslow on September 24, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus Christ. 80% of what was wanted and expected by families of immigrants, families of service members and working class families didn't happen. Are they really this freaking blind? It's as if they think only bloggers are going to vote.

Do they even fathom how insulting and condescending lines like that sound? Say it's hard, say Republicans are blocking everything, say people are going to need to work harder, but don't tell us we got "80% of what we wanted" because you think so.

Posted by: August J. Pollak on September 24, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

What everyone else has said. They just can't even present the illusion of fighting. I know what they are doing and trying to do. I read extensively. However, must people are completely ignorant of policy and process. They are getting crushed in a propaganda war and are letting down the Republic by doing so. The electorate is still somewhat malleable but by ceding ground to the enemy on everything they will lose. Sorry to say.

Posted by: JM on September 24, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I've said this before, but it must always be repeated. The "enthusiasm gap" in the Democratic base has nothing to do with liberals who talk politics on the Internet. The Democratic base, boiling it down, are people in the lower half of U.S. income levels. These people were getting slammed during the Bush years and voted for Obama in the hope things would get better. They didn't get better. These people cannot be reached with a "half a loaf" argument, because they're scraping for crumbs.

Posted by: JMG on September 24, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

"The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference." -- Barack Obama

Obama would be absolutely correct -- if he meant what he said. But he doesn't. When Obama says "us", he didn't include himself and his administration as part of the problem. He was (once again) blaming the "professional left".

I will be voting for Democrats, who are all pretty safe in my district. I even will send money to races with worthwhile Democratic candidates like Jose Sestak i Pennsylvania. But I can't send much because I only got back to where I was before the recession a few months ago.

But it sure as hell would be nice if Obama and Congressional Democrats would do something helpful on their end, rather than chasing unashamed liberals like me away.

Posted by: SteveT on September 24, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

You know, we all were hopeful that the defense bill would go through with the DADT amendment, when it did not we were wringing our hands, Harry Reid was blamed, repubs were saying he would not put their amendments on the bill etc. Well yesterday we learned that one repub amendment was a start to privatizing the VA. The VA was underfunded during the Bush years, Obama has corrected that, it is a good program that repubs have their eyes on to dismantle. As the wife of a veteran, I am glad Reid took the action he did so that we can get we want hopefully another day, but we will still keep our VA care.
My point is - we are not giving democrats as much credit as they deserve, we do not know the full reasons behind every thing they do, but they are not stupid and do have reasons. Let's support them in the mid terms, the other option is unthinkable, do we want to see Ms ODonnell, Angle, Rand Paul and smirky Cantor calling the shots?

Posted by: JS on September 24, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

"It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference." - Maybe he's talking about the way they treat our progressive priorities? If so I agree. Even this morning with the DADT decision regarding the California courts. Opportunity to excite the base so FU base!

Posted by: Pat on September 24, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is progressive voters feel many of the same frustrations as tea party voters. We just don't have a way to give that frustration voice. What we need are fighting democrats willing to fight for us and not just Republican-lite corporate apologists.

I made my first donation of this cycle just yesterday. I gave some money to Carnahan, because Roy Blunt is among the worst of the worst in insider Washington. Voting for Carnahan is a way to give voice to my utter disgust with the entire Washington crowd--both parties and their media flunkies.

I feel sorry for the voters in Nevada having to choose between an insiders, insider and a wacko.

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 24, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

We got 80% of what we wanted?

I'm going to vote, I'm going to GOTV. But I'd be much more enthused if I were doing it because I could continue to believe in THIS Administration, not because I know the alternative is far worse.

Posted by: slappy magoo on September 24, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

"They could have brought the tax cut extension for normal people up for a vote and forced the Republicans to stand either for or against the people." Yes, but the Blue Dogs would have voted with the republicans, and the optics would have been deeply muddled because of it. And then the Blue Dogs would have been favorites on teevee, because they are so "serious" about financial matters and the optics would have been muddled even more. I really don't know the answer to this problem, because the Blue Dogs both gave us the majority with allowed legislative successes, and diminished those success through their demands.

Posted by: wvng on September 24, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

I yield to no one in my disdain for firebaggers, but blaming the unrealistic portion of progressives for the entire indifference epidemic simply isn't supportable. There just aren't that many true progressives out there (sad to say) and even fewer of the my-way-or-the-highway sort (not sad to say); liberals are hugely outnumbered by very slightly left-of-centers, moderates and independents who happened to vote with us in 2008.

Obama, the DNC and the caucus are going to have to look a little deeper to find the cause of much of the lack of enthusiasm. The vast majority of it really isn't angry "I'll show you; I'll stay home" pushback from relatively privileged people who think the administration and the caucus haven't gone far enough left. Most of it is coming from struggling people who don't self-identify as progressives but who are at this point mired in hopelessness and worry over the economy and jobs.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

"we only got 80 percent of what we want"

When these clowns wake up and discover that the problem is them giving away the store as a negotiation tactic then perhaps they'll start earning the votes. They may get them anyway since at least the President is showing some fight.

Posted by: Fr33d0m on September 24, 2010 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

In 2008 we voted in a Democratic President along with huge Democratic majorities in Congress. We then watched what those pussies did in office. Gee, I can't figure out why there's so little enthusiasm on our side.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on September 24, 2010 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

"well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands."

We got 80%? Gitmo still open, DADT, Endless war, Patriot act undiminished, 10% unemployment, Bush tax cuts about to be made permanent, no action n climate change--oh right--we got a health care bill that trips over itself trying to disrupt the status quo as little as possible.

80%?? Looks more like 10 to me

Posted by: HC Carey on September 24, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

It's seemingly ironic that the apathy Obama names directly correlates to his tepid advocacy of center-left positions. That said, there are reasons that liberalism cannot directly compete with right-wing nihilism. The issue involves the paradoxical nature of social democracy itself. It succeeds by making "haves" out of "have nots". But to keep enlarging access to the pie during an economic contraction means taking slightly less pie for oneself. It may not be much but it's enough to cause rage for those whose access is either tentative or whose sense of social status depends on it.

Social democracy is only as strong as our common commitment to the idea of relative equality. That works best in culturally and racially homogeneous societies. In this vein, right-wing messaging is primitive and atavistic. It succeeds precisely because of its psychological insights in this area. We are not one nation. We never have been. "Real" Americans are fighting so tenaciously because their default reality - white, Christian America - is more powerful than the idea of the social compact that undergirds democracy.

Posted by: walt on September 24, 2010 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats in state and local races complicate the picture considerably. Here in NM the governor's race is throwing a monkey wrench into the whole election cycle. Furthermore, the NM Democratic hierarchy doesn't seem to realize how badly they've mucked things up, and how Denish is bearing the backlash of so much controversy. Democrat voters don't really want to vote for conservative Republican Susana Martinez, but they don't want more corruption and poor management, either, and Denish hasn't been able to adequately distance herself or distinguish herself from her predecessor and those around him.

Posted by: Varecia on September 24, 2010 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, after yesterdays decision to NOT HOLD A VOTE on the Obama Tax Cuts, do another poll about the "Enthusiasm Gap"

Posted by: bcinaz on September 24, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Winslow FTW?** I don't think the Democrats could have displayed themselves as any more fearful, spineless with basic principle and especially interested in keeping their jobs than they have over the last two years. The enthusiasm gap is their making, not that of the citizenry. Obama can try to make peace with that as he does so many obviously immovable GOP'ers. This predicament sticks to the perpetrator, not to the progressive victims, Democrats would do well to remind themselves of that little golden fact. Their number may be up, I won’t shed a tear, they’ve screwed America too.

Posted by: Trollop on September 24, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Last month I played in a high stakes poker game with Obama, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and John Boehner.

Because the cards were marked, I was able to know what every player had.

On the first hand, Obama had a pair of Aces; Harry Reid had a pair of Kings; Chuck Schumer had a pair of Queens; and Boehner had a unsuited 7 2! Obama was first to play and checked. Reid was second and folded. Schumer got out his cell phone and called Wall Street for instructions and was told to huff and puff and bluster and then fold seeing how he was playing against a republican. Boehner then made a modest bluff. Obama folded.

Unfortunately, this made up story replicates my perception of how Obama, Reid, and Schumer have been 'playing politics'.

Can someone explain to me why they all folded on the tax cut votes for the wealthy?

My level of disgust for the dumbocraps (especially in the Senate) is only exceeded by my disgust for the rethugnicans!

Posted by: AngryOldVet on September 24, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

In some ways, this goes to the primaries in 2008. Obama was perceived as the more fighting militant Democrat, while what he said was that he thought bi-partisan reaching across the aisle would be possible. Hilary, on the other hand, was perceived as being a moderate, centrist, compromising Democrat, while what she said was that the GOP obstructionist and needed to be fought. After all, who would know better than her.

There has always been this curious mismatch between what people expect of Obama and what he actually does. Liberals and progressives assume that because he is African American, he is more radical than he is. The dissatisfaction on the left today is the fallout from that misperception.

The irony is that the Right also thinks of him as more radical than he is, for exactly the same reason. The only difference is that the notion of an angry black man in the White House scares them silly.

Posted by: Tom in Ma on September 24, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Enthusiasm? Jon Stewart and Colbert are better at it than any Dem. They should all be slapping their collective foreheads and saying : Why didn't we think of that?

Posted by: john R on September 24, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Jeez, I don't see it like y'all a bit. I'm not at all happy with the accomplishments of the administration and Democrats, but I am realistic enough to know this is the best they could've done, given the system in which they operate. Sure they can jump up and down and scream about what asses the GOP are -- and thereby kill any chance of peeling off a GOP Senate vote on anything, even the lowest court appointee. Given the economic and media power of their opposition, Democrats' enacting the health care bill took a great deal of tactical acumen and political courage -- you'll see, because a great many Democrats are about to lose their jobs for that vote. To them I say, try to sustain the triage the best you can and start the push to 2012.

Posted by: beejeez on September 24, 2010 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

"Democrats' enacting the health care bill took a great deal of tactical acumen and political courage -- you'll see, because a great many Democrats are about to lose their jobs for that vote." - BeeJeez

They're about to lose their jobs because the HCR bill has a mandate without a viable alternative and they've bought into the republican framing and are afraid to vigorously defend the bill. Until recently, have you seen any Democratic candidate unabashedly defending the merits of the bill?

It's starting to happen, but it is very late in the game.

Posted by: bdop4 on September 24, 2010 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

"The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference."

He sure got that right, only he attributed it to the wrong people. The people who are complacent, apathetic and indifferent are those in his administration and the Democrats in Congress and the Senate.

First they cave on the tax cut vote and now the Obama administration is appealing a ruling that says DADT is unconstitutional!!! Am I supposed to believe that they REALLY are interested in energizing their base??!!

Posted by: Texas Aggie on September 24, 2010 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

More than any other President in the past 100 years, Obama ran a campaign that promised to change the very political system in D.C.

I find the figure of 80% to be not only laughable, but likely to further depress enthusiasm; liberals will believe that Obama is unlikely to push for significantly more in the future if he already is giving himself credit for 80%.

But even if one were to give Obama a fair amount of credit for achieving success on individual issues, he promised something more:

"The pharmaceutical industry wrote into the prescription drug plan that Medicare could not negotiate with drug companies. And you know what, the chairman of the committee who pushed the law through [Billy Tauzin] went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making $2 million a year. Imagine that. That's an example of the same old game-playing in Washington. I don't want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing."

People keep trying to rationalize Obama's failures because what he got done was "the best that he could do" within the existing system. What they keep forgetting is that Obama promised to try to change the system.

I doubt most most liberals, such as myself, would be upset if Obama had taken 2, 3 or 4 years to pass the most critical legislation as long as he appeared to be taking significant steps to change how the system works, so that when the bills did get passed, they actually worked as promised.

But what has Obama done to take money out of the system? To change the revolving door of influence? To diminish the impact of special interest lobbyists? Bupkis.

It is one thing to cut a deal with Big PhRMA at the eleventh hour to get a bill passed. It is another to invite Billy Tauzin to secret meetings in the White House before a single hearing has occurred. Believe it or not, people notice this stuff.

Posted by: square1 on September 24, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

They're about to lose their jobs because the HCR bill has a mandate without a viable alternative

No. You're once again projecting your own criticisms onto the general electorate. Average, half-informed voters don't much care about the mandate. They're upset about HCR because they're convinced it's a "slide into socialism" that gives "undeserving" mooches access to healthcare at the expense of hardworking Joes and Janes like themselves.

You're right about Dems not vigorously defending the legislation, though.

Posted by: Frank on September 24, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Considering the alternative, I'm going to be disgustedly enthusiastic rather than enthusiastically disgusted. Team!

Posted by: Michael7843853 on September 24, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands.

No...the reason we feel like sitting on our hands is because the Democrats we elected are just sitting on their asses. I wouldn't mind if we lost a few fights if only we would actually fight. But we don't. If I sit on my hands this November...I almost certainly won't, but lawdy I want to...it's because Democrats have shown themselves to be gutless cowards and undeserving of my support.

Posted by: greg on September 24, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

This Administration is reaping just what they've sowed: http://mydd.com/users/tarheel74/posts/f-ing-re

As they say, the Republicans are scared of their base; the Democrats hate theirs.

Posted by: Dennis Savage on September 24, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

I continue to hope that the incessant progressive whining is merely a symptom of being in the very, very late stages of the Great Conservative Era that Nixon anticipated and Reagan officially launched.

I try to think of how conservatives must have felt in 1970. There were plenty of signs that the tide was turning in their favor, long-term, but I suspect they were convinced at the time that all was lost to the women's libbers, the angry blacks and "Chicanos", the gays ...

They were short-sighted and wrong - as too many progressives are today.

Posted by: burien top team on September 24, 2010 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

There are a lot of polls out there. I didn't have the Pew poll, but in my average of polls in September, I don't calculate a big difference between likely voter polls and registered voter polls (it's around 2 %). I mean it seemed (past tense and based on 11 polls) about normal and not unusually large.

Note that the Democrats have been gaining in the pollster composite even while pollsters have been switching from registered voter to likely voter samples. it used to be (almost) the only likely voter polls were Rasmussen polls. Now non Rasmussen polls are about half likely voter polls have registered voter polls.

This means that the recent shift towards the Democrats is larger than it seems (by about 1% by my silly little calculation and 2% by Nate Silver's). That's on top of the shift of 4 or 5%.

All this happened while the press was talking about O'Donnell (can't hope for more of that) and taxes. Shows how smart the Democrats were to decide to change the subject.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on September 24, 2010 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

I just checked the Pew report. The report is dated yesterday, but the data are from August 25 through September 6th. Frankly that's ancient history.

There is considerable evidence of change in both support among registered voters and the enthusiasm gap since then.

In particular, there is no research on the correlation of enthusiasm in August and September and electoral outcomes.

In any case, you present the Pew data in arguing against the idea that the Republicans peaked in late August. Clearly presenting data from late August (and very early September) as current is not a good way to respond to an argument that things have changed since then.

I almost suspect that you didn't read the legend of the table.

Just want to add that I think you are a wonderful outstanding blogger.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on September 24, 2010 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Ahmadinejad is dumber than Palin but,,, 911 = "the seminal tragedy of this generation" sounds like hype.

10x as many people get snuffed in their gas driven automobiles & trucks every year. Cocktail napkin guess, over half-million fatalities since the Model A.
Where's the outrage against the oil companies & auto dealers for this continuing slaughter?

The US doesn't seem to have any problem "absorbing" this annual massacre.

Posted by: cwolf on September 24, 2010 at 10:54 PM | PERMALINK

"I am realistic enough to know this is the best they could've done, given the system in which they operate." --beejeez on September 24, 2010 at 11:44 AM

Complete and total bullshit.
We've been hearing this one for over a year now, and it's nonsense. I'm gonna say this once only, because I haven't the patience any more:
We. Will. Never. Know. What. They. Could. Have. Done. Because. They. Didn't. Even. Try.
What we DO know -- yes, we do -- is that it could have been better, and probably much better, had they not...
...given away more than half of what most Americans actually wanted, and many desperately needed, before they even began to negotiate with the opposition. (They did this with HCR, first by taking single-payer off the table, then by folding on the public option -- the one part of the !@#ing debacle that still polls over 65%. They did it with the stimulus bill, first by taking their own total number down below $1T -- or was it $900B? -- then by allowing a full third of it to take the least effective form, tax cuts. They did it by setting up the Catfood Commission, and letting Simpson's devastating quote lie there unexploited. And don't even get me started on at least investigating, if not bringing charges and incarcerating, members of the last administration for war crimes, spying on Americans, etc -- they could have done so, and then granted pardons to everyone, in the interest of "comity" and magnanimity, but the truth, or something at least a bit closer to it, could have come out.)
...utterly failed to call out the Publicans on their lies at any of the times they could have done so, thus granting the Publicans the power to set the narrative. The Pub's are on the record admitting they were gaming the system, admitting they were never going to vote for anything the Dem's put together no matter now many/what concessions they made -- and the Pres still makes noises about bi-partisanship? Beyond a certain point, that's not "above the fray;" it's not "changing the way things are done;" it's visibly allowing oneself to be played, and Jane and Joe Sixpak (esp Joe) do not like weakness, and will not vote for it.
...utterly failing to exploit any of the openings the Pubbies have given them to demonstrate what America will look like under a Publican retake of power (in name; they clearly already have much of the power in reality), such as: the Ryan proposal for the next 20-30 years, which manages to make the deficit worse, even as it furthers the Publican project of demolishing our middle class, and transferring all wealth and opportunity (what remains of either) to the top 2%.
And while it is certainly true that both the Publicans and the corporate media have made it difficult for both the Obama administration and the Congressional Dem's to give Americans what they resoundingly voted for in the last election with the largest absolute majority vote in, what was it, 28 years? -- it was never impossible; at least not until the feckless, dysfunctional Dem's made it so by their own manifold, manifest failures.

Posted by: smartalek on September 25, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK
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