The key finding: PPP asked independents who did vote in 2010 who they had supported in 2008. The results: Fifty one percent of independents who voted this time supported McCain last time, versus only 42 percent who backed Obama last time. In 2008, Obama won indies by eight percent.And, again, a lot of the people who DID switch were almost certainly influenced by their economic troubles.
That means the complexion of indies who turned out this time is far different from last time around, argues Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. His case: Dem-leaning indys stayed home this time while GOP-leaning ones came out -- proof, he insists, that the Dems' primary problem is they failed to inspire indys who are inclined to support them.
"The dumbest thing Democrats could do right now is listen to those like Third Way who urge Democrats to repeat their mistake by caving to Republicans and corporations instead of fighting boldly for popular progressive reforms and reminding Americans why they were inspired in 2008," Green says.
There's a lot to be said for this. The part about Independents "not being a monolith" is very important to remember. Democrats and Republicans aren't monoliths, either, but at the very least they have shared stated loyalty to a political party. Independents don't even have THAT, and are almost certainly not going to decide to vote or NOT vote as a bloc.
So why did they stay home? Sargent doesn't know. Fair enough. It could be likely that it has a lot to do with enthusiasm. Dem-leaning groups are already less inclined to vote than Rep-leaning groups. If you're a registered Dem, you'll be a little bit more invested in the process; but if you're a Dem-leaning Independent, you probably have nothing invested in the process at all. You won't vote as a matter of course; you need a REASON to get your carcass out to the polling station, wait in line, and pull those levers or push those buttons.
Have the Dems given them those reasons? No, they have not. They didn't even run a fiercely negative campaign about all the damage that the Republicans would do. As far as I can tell, they barely ran a campaign at all. Individual candidates ran campaigns, definitely; but how can that help against national trends?
Even a negative campaign may not have been enough, though. Dem-leaning Independents need a reason to go vote for you in the first place. That's one of the ways that Obama was so successful in 2008: he made a point of ensuring that people had a reason to go vote for him. The Dems never provided those reasons this time. How could they? They couldn't credibly promise a damned thing: Obama had broken many of his—or half-assed their fulfillment—and Congressional Democrats couldn't even marshall the votes of Senate DEMOCRATS, let alone Republicans! Even when they HAD sixty seats, they were being filibustered by their own supposed partisans!
So what the hell is the Congress supposed to promise the American people, exactly? A shitton of decent House bills sitting uselessly in Senate limbo! Dem-leaners won't turn out for that, especially when everything else in their lives is so depressing right now. They may not vote Republican, but they won't necessarily vote Democratic, either.
Kudos to Sargent and the PPP for bringing this up. I can only hope it gets spread quickly and helps challenge the coalescing media consensus that this is about liberalism. It isn't, of course. If it were, then 2006 and 2008 would also have been about conservatism, and the same people who avoided ideological conclusions then would be avoiding ideological conclusions now. The extent to which this is blamed on liberalism just shows the fundamental character of the American media.
Edit: On the other hand, maybe non-voters were satisfied after all?