I had a couple of theories about why Democratic voter turnout was so bad last week besides the party nominating bad candidates.
One was the frustration theory: we got Congress back in 2006, we got Barack in in 2008, but things aren't changing enough. Getting out and voting for our candidates didn't really make anything better.
The other is the complacency theory: we got rid of Bush, we got rid of all those arch conservatives running Congress, now our guys are in charge and we can trust them to do the right thing. It doesn't really matter if I vote this year or not because we've got it covered.
Some post-election polling from Democracy Corps in New Jersey and Virginia would seem to suggest the frustration theory is wrong and the complacency theory is worryingly correct.
In both New Jersey and Virginia people who didn't vote were much more likely to think the country is heading in the right direction than those who did. Those who think things are fine were less likely to get out and vote.
Similar story when it comes to whether people think Obama has things going the right way- 49% of those who didn't vote in Virginia think he does while only 43% of those who did vote do. In New Jersey 63% of nonvoters thought Obama had the country going in the right direction while only 51% of voters shared that sentiment.
What's the lesson here?
-Democratic voters who think things are fine now that Obama is in office have developed some sense of complacency that reduced their urge to vote this fall.
-Democrats need to create a villain to keep that from happening again in 2010. They got two good election cycles out of George W. Bush but it's probably time for something new. Unfortunately the John Boehners and Mitch McConnells of the world are too obscure for that purpose so I don't know who the answer is- Rush Limbaugh? The best message for Democrats to get their people back out to the polls might be- 'look, these Republicans are still trying to obstruct progress and we need you to get out there and vote if Barack's going to be able to pursue his entire agenda.'
Basically Democratic voters need to be disabused of the notion that all is ok- because if turnout patterns this November match turnout patterns from last November all is most certainly not going to be ok.