Democrats have an enthusiasm problem, and they know it.
A June poll from the Democratic firm Democracy Corps revealed that, among those voters who make up the Obama coalition — young people, Latinos, African-Americans, and single women – only 68 percent describe themselves as “likely” to vote in 2014. 85 percent of other voters who are expected to favor Republican candidates say they are “likely” to cast a ballot in November.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake observed that this is not the only troubling sign for Democrats ahead of the midterms. “An April AP-GfK poll showed, among those who are strongly interested in politics — i.e. most apt to vote — people favored a GOP-controlled Congress 51 percent to 37 percent,” he noted.
For months, Democrats have been scrambling for an issue that might energize their base ahead of November’s midterm elections. From climate change, to campaign finance, to the Koch brothers, to immigration, to the War on Women; Democrats have employed a scattershot strategy aimed at sparking some enthusiasm among Obama voters for their Democratic representatives. Thus far, this strategy has fallen flat.
Is this because Democratic voters are simply incapable of voting in midterm elections? The president suggested this was the case in March when he said that his party usually gets “clobbered” in midterms. That certainly was not the case in 2006 when Democrats recaptured control of the House and the Senate. Nor was it the case in 1998 when, in spite of the historically strong headwinds facing a Democrats in Bill Clinton’s sixth year in office, his party gained five seats in the House.
So, beyond historical forces working against Democrats in 2014, what could be explaining the enthusiasm deficit threatening the party’s control of the Senate? The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard submitted an interesting theory on Wednesday when she suggested that President Barack Obama’s consistent threats to address issues he says are of paramount importance without Congress communicates to his voters that maintaining control of the Senate is of little consequence.
At the six minute mark in the clip below, Stoddard was asked if she believes Obama’s apparent election year strategy of attacking unpopular Republicans in an even more unpopular Congress was a smart tactic. She said that, while it is true that Obama’s personal brand is stronger than that of congressional Republicans, a perpetual campaign is not going to be remembered fondly by historians.
“To be picking on Congress and saying I can do it without you, A, tells his base not to get out this fall,” she said. “It tells Democratic voters, ‘You don’t need your member of Congress, because I’m just going to do things without them anyway.’”
“It really seems like he doesn’t plan to do anything substantive or significant until – throughout the entire remainder of his presidency,” Stoddard added. “And that’s really worrisome.”
On an anecdotal note, virtually everyone who discusses politics for a living has encountered an Obama supporter who greets the president’s failing job approval numbers with a yawn. So much for that third term, they’ll say mockingly. That would seem to support Stoddard’s point. Even those Obama voters who are engaged in politics believe their job is done, most likely because Obama believes the same.
“The president is giving Americans a sense that, as he gives up on Congress, he’s kind of giving up on his job,” Stoddard said earlier in this segment.
“They know he’s bolting from the building to go to Starbucks and Chipotle. He’s getting bored in the cocoon. He’s planning his post-presidency. There have been reports about how he wants to perhaps move to New York. He’s having lots of dinner parties where he doesn’t talk about policy or politics, but the NBA playoffs — anything but his job.”
Can Obama energize Democrats ahead of the midterms if he is not enthusiastic about the final two years of his presidency? Probably not. And all the identity politics in the world is no substitute for a positive agenda from the White House.