Give voters a reason

GIVE VOTERS A REASON…. The latest Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos included the usual question on the generic congressional ballot, with Dems still enjoying a modest edge over Republicans, 37% to 32%, with 31% unsure. Democratic numbers were strongest in the Northeast (53% Dems, 7% GOP), and Republican numbers were strongest in the South (51% GOP, 21% Dems).

But this poll added a new question to the mix to measure voter enthusiasm: “In the 2010 Congressional elections will you definitely vote, probably vote, not likely vote, or definitely will not vote?” The overall results aren’t nearly as interesting as the partisan breakdown.

Among self-identified Republican voters, 81% are either “definitely” voting next year or “probably” voting, while 14% are “not likely” to vote or will “definitely” not vote.

Among self-identified Independent voters, 65% are either “definitely” voting next year or “probably” voting, while 23% are “not likely” to vote or will “definitely” not vote.

And among self-identified Democratic voters, 56% are either “definitely” voting next year or “probably” voting, while 40% are “not likely” to vote or will “definitely” not vote.

Markos, who called the results “shocking,” explained:

Two in five Democratic voters either consider themselves unlikely to vote at this point in time, or have already made the firm decision to remove themselves from the 2010 electorate pool. Indeed, Democrats were three times more likely to say that they will “definitely not vote” in 2010 than are Republicans.

This enormous enthusiasm gap … seems to make passing legitimate health care reform an absolute political necessity for Democrats. This polling data certainly should be something for Congressional leadership to consider, as they move along the legislative path.

The notion of an enthusiasm gap this year is not exactly new, but we haven’t seen numbers quite this stark until now.

The results aren’t a total surprise. President Obama, working with a Democratic Congress, generated high hopes. As the year progressed, the GOP base was worked into a frenzy, based on little but rage, ignorance, and confusion, while the Democratic base grew frustrated and impatient. They did their part on Election Day, and there’s a sense that Democratic leaders aren’t doing their part now. Policymakers have gone the better part of nine months without any major legislative accomplishments. That, coupled with a still-struggling economy, is not a recipe for widespread satisfaction.

To be sure, there are some explanations for the political paralysis. For the last six months, policymakers tackled the toughest policy challenge of them all — health care reform — which left little room for anything else. Plus, now that the Senate no longer operates on majority rule, passing anything even mildly noteworthy has become harder than at any point in American history. But these explanations, while true, don’t change the larger dynamic — the motivated right is still convinced the president is Hitler, and the listless left is still waiting for progress.

It’s obviously not too late, and a great deal can happen over the next 10 or so months. What’s more, the solution isn’t exactly a mystery — if Dems do what they were elected to do, they’ll be pleased with the results. I keep thinking about something Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) said earlier this month: “We must deliver. I need to give Democrats something to be excited about.”

Finish health care. Pass a jobs bill. Finish the climate bill. Re-regulate the financial industry. Finish the education bill. Pick up immigration reform. Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It’s ambitious, but a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president can prove to the country that they know how to tackle the issues that matter and know how to get things done.

The R2K/Daily Kos poll shouldn’t cause panic among Democratic leaders; it should serve as a wake-up call.