Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Real-World" Voters
At New Donkey, Ed Kilgore recently weighed in on the emerging cognitive split between older observers of politics, who look at the meta-trends this year and foresee a Democratic blowout, and younger ones, who have never seen such a thing and are deeply skeptical that in the end, whether it's through strategic brilliance, shameless fear-mongering or flat-out theft, the Republicans won't pull through. He writes:

This generation gap has been especially notable if you read progressive prognosticators, such as Chris Bowers or Kos. These are people who by and large are completely obsessed with the hope that Democrats will retake Congress. This is largely what they live for. Yet they are very reluctant to predict that their Ahab will indeed slay their Great White Whale. At the same time, nonpartisan and Washington Establishment crystal ball analysts--the very people that progressive bloggers regard as thinly veiled allies of Bush and Rove--are typically suggesting that Bush and Rove's party is about to get 1994'd.

Cook gently suggests that Old Folks remember earlier elections that provide the relevant empircal data for what's happening this year. Bowers responds by noting that young'uns are fixated on recent elections where the only real pattern was Democratic futility.

As an Old Guy who pays a lot of attention to Young Folk commentary, I think both sides have a point. Cook and Rothenburg and all sorts of conventional handicappers are right to examine the historical evidence for what might happen when you have a deeply unpopular president whose party controls Congress, especially six years into a presidency. But Bowers and company have experienced two straight midterm elections that broke all the rules about the performance of the president's party.

Perhaps I'm showing my age here, but I tend to agree with Charlie and Stu and company that it's hard to find any precedent for a presidential party controlling Congress in the sixth year of an administration that avoids disaster when the electorate is completely sour on the status quo.

But we're in an era when precedents are being broken every day, so who knows?

As a Young Guy (well, 33; my political memory doesn't really go back further back than 1986) who watches attentively to what the Old Guys are saying, I devoutly hope Kilgore is right about what will happen this November. But, like the rest of the twenty- and thirty-somethings, I just can't believe it, even before the poll results today that showed Bush and the Republicans enjoying a possible bounce.

Part of that surely is, as Kilgore describes, seeing all the "rules" repeatedly broken in the last four congressional election cycles. And part of it is that is best explainable with a suffering-sports-fan analogy: as when one is (say) a Phillies fan, you just expect the bounces to go against you... AND you're worried that the other side's manager and GM are much smarter than yours, based on the results of past seasons.

But another part of it might be that many observers--probably "old" and "young" both--might not understand just how completely the national perspective has been fractured. I'm just not convinced that, given factors of money and gerrymandering and expertise at turnout/electoral endgames, large enough majorities in a large enough number of districts are sufficiently "sour on the status quo" that they'll break their recent voting habits--whether those habits are voting Republican or just not seeing any reason to get involved. (And admittedly, to the casual observer of politics it's probably very easy to conclude that "they all stink.")

And one reason why not is that some core percentage of the electorate is, effectively, impervious to empirical evidence about how the country is doing and how their elected officials are performing in office.

For these folks, bad news from Iraq, stagnant real wages, debts and inflation, and perhaps especially the sad changes in our national/historical character and who's driving them, are all either shrugged away or blamed on the Democrats or other malign actors. These are the people who only watch Fox, who hear from their preachers and neighbors about the righteous rule of the Republicans and the rampant immorality of the Democrats. At best, they're trying to reconcile what they might be seeing on TV or feeling in their own bank account with all those built-in factors pushing them to vote Republican.

In short, an election held solely in the Reality-Based Community would put the Republicans out on their collective ass. But many of us felt that should have happened two years ago. Albeit under somewhat different circumstances, it didn't--and I'm not at all sure our guys have figured out since how to drag voters into the real world where the fatal flaws of faux-conservative governance are impossible to miss.

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