Now I've seen it all! Democrats are apparently shocked by the mystery of the missing voter. What happened, they wonder, to the hordes of Democratic voters of 2008 that turned out to elect Barack Obama? Writes Gerald Seib,
A popular theory of this year's midterm election holds that Democrats took a shellacking in part because big chunks of the party's core liberal base, discouraged at the path of the Obama administration, stayed home rather than show up to vote as they did in 2008.
Well, not exactly. According to a Wall Street Journal poll of 2008 Obama voters that didn't turn out this year, they are not angry lefties. No, the explanation is much simpler than that. Sure, they are mostly self-described as Democrats.
But they also were more likely to identify themselves as "not very strong Democrats" rather than "strong Democrats." And the largest share identified their ideology as moderate rather than liberal.
In other words, these are Americans that are not strongly connected to politics and not strongly motivated to vote.
That fact rather steps on the desire of many strong Democrats to rile up the Democratic base by doubling down on the liberal Obama agenda with a strongly partisan attack on the Republicans.
No, the voters that stayed home are momentum voters. They voted for Obama because they got swept up in the euphoria of Hope and Change. To bring them out again, the president is going to have to rile up the uncommitted.
Really, that's going to be almost impossible, absent a big turnaround in the economy. Think about the average uncommitted young woman voter. In 2008 she found herself all excited by Candidate Obama because all her friends were excited. But now she and her friends are looking for work and not finding it. They are discovering, for the first time in their young lives, that politicians will say anything to get elected. They are discovering that politics really doesn't transform their lives with Hope and Change. What is it going to take to get those young voters back to the polls? A strong economy, that's what. But even so, they are not going to be marching to the polls in battalion strength like they did in 2008. You only get to do the euphoria experience once, when your side is out of power and half the electorate is groaning for release from the evil corrupt in-party.
What President Obama needs is a Morning in America feeling, like the feeling that Americans felt in 1984 when the economy had emerged from four years of inflation and recession. The big question is whether Obama's economic policies will deliver that. After all, his policies are the exact opposite from President Reagan's policies in 1981-84. Instead of hard money, he is backing "quantitative easing." Instead of spending cuts, he favors big spending increases. Instead of tax rate cuts, he wants to increase tax rates on the most productive Americans.
It's a great experiment, and we will see what works by 2012. And then the missing voters of 2010 will get to decide whether they want Four More Years, or whether they think it is Time for a Change.