Sorry I have been gone for so long, but I am back now. This is the non-data based essence of a presentation I gave today at a progressive media conference. Look to Donkey Rising later today for more on the data that backs up just how good the 2006 could potentially be for Democrats--Chris
As we approach the 2006 midterm election, we are also inevitably moving closer to the time period when the established news media will solidify its conventional wisdom narrative about the election. To date, this narrative has focused on the apparent electoral problems facing Republicans, but with the emphasis that Democrats are not properly taking advantage of the generational level of opportunity presented to them. As EJ Dionne has noted
, whenever established news outlets such as the Washington Post run stories describing just how bad the 2006 situation looks for Republicans, predictably within a few days we can expect a similar wave of stories about how Democrats are divided, have no message, are not as far ahead as they should be, or any other type of story that basically portrays Democrats as not properly taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to them by the at least temporary collapse of the Republican machine. From my vantage point, this narrative, that Republicans are in trouble but Democrats are not taking advantage, seems to be the most likely shape of the conventional wisdom narrative on 2006 that we can expect from the established news media when the campaign really starts to heat up in August, September and beyond.
The main problem with this narrative is that it is now horribly out of date. Nine months ago, Jerome made a seminal post on MyDD entitled Democrats and Independents in a new majority
. In the post, he discussed a Bush job approval poll from American Research Group that showed how Independents were far, far closer to Democrats in their opinion of President Bush than they were to Republicans. Since that time, poll after poll after poll on nearly every issue imaginable has shown independents, no matter where they live
, to be far closer to Democrats than Republicans. Last October, Ruy Teixeira coined the term "Indycrats" to describe this trend
. Political Arthmetik has noted
:The difficulty for President Bush here is that he is noticeably less popular among independents than one would expect of a president with a 38% overall approval rating. Instead, his approval among independents is some 9-10% below what we might expect based on other presidents.
This newfound affinity for Democrats among independents is the primary reason why Democrats are currently in possession of enormous leads in generic congressional ballots
. The most recent Gallup poll showed Democrats with a 20%+ lead among independents. Pew polls have shown similar margins for Democrats among independents. In short, we are now a full nine months into a nationwide trend where Independents have shifted away from Republicans and toward Democrats.
This is why the conventional wisdom narrative on 2006 is out of date. To argue that Democrats are not properly taking advantage of the situation, and that they have not developed a message to appeal to swing voters, ignores both the enormous leads that Democrats have held in generic congressional ballots for nearly a full year, and that these leads have come almost entirely from their strength among swing voters, i.e. independents. The issue at hand is no longer "in the face of Republican collapse, why aren't Democrats doing better?" Democrats are doing better. They have huge leads, and have had them for several months. In contrast to the current conventional wisdom narrative, the actual issue at hand is whether or not Democrats have the electoral and activist recourses to deliver this new potential governing majority to the polls on Election Day. In other words, the issue is not whether or not Democrats can appeal to swing voters, because they have done that. The issue is whether or not the progressive activist base is excited enough o provide Democrats with the resources to win the 2006 election.
An up to date narrative on 2006 that reflects the current political situation would not focus on whether or not Democrats have the message, the unity or the potential voters to fully capitalize on recent Republicans difficulties, because whatever message or unity they have displayed to this point has clearly been enough to build them leads in polls that we have not seen for a generation. Clearly, whatever they have done on that front, it has been good enough. An accurate, up to date narrative would reasonably and rightful question whether or not Democrats have the resources to actually turn this newly emerged, potential governing majority into an actual majority at the ballot box. Democrats are behind in fundraising. They are way behind in alternative media. They lag behind in sophisticated GOTV operations. They lag in data mining and voter targeting. Basically, Democrats lag behind Republicans in virtually every aspect of political machinery, and if the dominant, CW narrative on the 2006 elections is to accurately reflect the reality of the political situation, the main question of that narrative must be whether or not this gap faced by Democrats will be enough to keep them from turning the best chance to win a landslide election in over a decade into a reality.
Asking this question will no doubt be difficult for those individuals who have the most control over the direction of the CW. This is primarily because it will force people to actually talk about the progressive activist base as playing a, if not the, critical role in an election. Since the rise of the DLC and the "third way" the progressive activst base, which actually delivers the money and the volunteer hours to the Democratic Party has been all but eliminated from the national political discourse. Given this, suddenly talking about whether or not the progressive activist base is motivated enough in 2006 to fill the obvious holes Democrats have in terms of political machinery as the key issue in the 2006 elections will be extremely difficult for the established, CW-generating punditacracy. For months, if not years, we have been subjected to nearly endless discussions of whether or not Bush is losing the conservative base or of how the conservative activist base won the 2004 election for Bush. For at least as long, we have been subjected to nearly endless discussions concerning whether or not Democrats can possibly create a message that appeals to swing voters, to moderates, and to independents. While we have these nearly endless discussions that turn into narratives that focus upon conservatives and independents, what we never really hear much about is whether or not the progressive activist base is sufficiently motivated to engage in the sort of activism that is necessary for Democrats and progressives to actually win at the ballot box. However, with enormous Democratic leads among independents established for nine months now, whether or not the progressive base is sufficiently motivated to help Democrats close the machinery gap is in fact the main question for Election 2006. Are progressive activists sufficiently fired up in 2006 to deliver the money, the GOTV, the volunteer hours, the media and even the votes that the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates have come to rely upon during elections? That is an important question, but I can't say right now if anyone really has an answer for it, because quite frankly the progressive activist base has been all but excluded from national discussions of the 2006 elections.
It is time for that to end. With Democrats holding huge leads in the polls as a result of a massive "Indycrat" wave, the level of motivation among the progressive activist base is now the key issue of the upcoming elections. It is time for people to recognize this and start talking about this. As difficult it may be for many people to get used to, it is time for progressives to take center stage in the national political discussion once again. Are these activists motivated enough to fill the gaps Democrats face in terms of political machinery? Just reading the progressive political blogosphere for one day should reveal that it is not at all clear whether or not progressive activists have the motivation necessary to sweat and bleed for Democratic candidates in 2006. Looking at a Pew poll form last year that showed Democrats only giving a 49% approval rating to Democratic leaders in congress
should show that a motivated progressive base is not a guarantee. Looking at Gallup data that suggests a 10 points swing away from Democrats and toward Republicans when polls shift from registered voters to likely voters
should show that a high level of motivation among the progressive base is not a guarantee.
People need to start asking what makes progressive activists tick. What makes them give their money and time? What issues motivate them? What do they look for in their leaders? Whether or not Democrats can answer these questions will go a long way toward determining what will happen in 2006. Whether or not pundits ask this question will determine how connected they are to political reality. The motivation level of the progressive activist base holds the key to the 2006 elections. In 2004, we were subjected to endless discussions on conservative values voters. Given the new political landscape, it is about time we start having real discussions on who progressive "values voters" are, and just what it is that they want. It is time for the election narrative to change, and it is time for it to focus on the progressive activist base.