Story number one in this election cycle is, in my opinion, the abandonment of the Democratic Party by independent voters. This phenomenon pretty much ensures that the Dems will lose control of the House and that the Republicans will enjoy major gains in the Senate.
Story number two is the enthusiasm gap, of which the Tea Party movement is, depending on one’s point of view, a cause, an effect, or some of both. If this gap is large enough, it will propel the Republicans into House gains of historical proportion and into control of the Senate.
The latest POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll confirms how badly the Democrats are faring with independents. It shows Republicans with a 14-point edge among independents and, accordingly, a 5 point lead (47-42) in the generic ballot match up. The Republican generic ballot lead expands to 12 points among those “extremely likely” to vote. That’s the enthusiasm gap.
If the final House vote reflects a 5 point generic lead, expect the Republicans to pick up perhaps 50 House seats. If the lead is 12 points, expect a pick-up of 70 to 80 seats. And, in that scenario, expect the likes of Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray to be swept out of Washington DC by the storm. In fact, both could lose even absent that violent of a storm.
The movement of independents away from the Democrats isn’t difficult to explain. Independents tend not to be leftists. The Dems have governed from the left. And they have done so after apparently creating the impression that they would not.
If the economy had improved significantly, independents would have been more inclined to forgive President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and the others for their leftist agenda. But the economy has not improved significantly.
The Democrats’ leftist governance should, at least, have helped bridge the enthusiasm gap. But the Dems are finding it difficult to drum up enthusiasm in the context of high unemployment and a tepid economic recovery.
The Battleground Poll referred to above shows that independents are flocking to Republican candidates out of disgust with Obama and Pelosi, not delight with Republicans. It is also unlikely that independents are enamored with significant portions of the conservative agenda. After all, only about 40 percent of the country typically describes itself as conservative in polls, and many of them are probably to the left of the Tea Party movement mainstream. In the Battleground poll discussed above, 24 percent of respondents described themselves as very conservative.
This suggests a potential problem for conservatives. If, once in Washington, they promote a hard-right agenda, their support among independents will diminish. This, in turn will create difficulties in the election of 2012.
This doesn’t mean that conservatives should back away from their core agenda. Rather, it means that they should avoid self-inflicted wounds, something the current crop of Dems has been unable to do. Avoiding self-inflicted wounds means, among other things, not wasting political capital on peripheral issues (see Obama and the Ground Zero Mosque), not shying away from attacks on the “culture of corruption,” and certainly not succumbing to it (see the Dems on earmarks); not resorting to tactics that offend the public (like passing massive pieces of legislation without allowing even enough time to read the bill).
Let’s hope that the new Republican members of Congress will be restrained and savvy enough, and that the Republican incumbents will be sufficiently able to kick enough old habits, to avoid self-inflicted wounds.
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