According to a survey released over the Thanksgiving holiday -- that received little media play -- roughly 40 percent of self-identified Democratic voters said they are "not likely to" or "definitely" won't vote in the 2010 Congressional elections.
That same poll found that self-identifying Republicans are three times more likely to vote in 2010. Next year's elections were already of interest, considering the Democrats' sizeable majority in both chambers of Congress and the reality that the President's party often loses seats in the first midterm election of his term.
So an already perilous situation for Democrats could get worse if much of their base stays home.
The news isn't necessarily surprising -- the Republican base has always been more passionate and active at the polls than the Democratic base -- but it does give those of us on the left cause for concern. Democrats need only look at what happened in the gubernatorial race earlier this month in Virginia; Democrats and independents stayed home, for a variety of reasons, while the GOP base mobilized and made Bob McDonnell the commonwealth's next governor.
If Democrats aren't careful -- or they fail to pass any significant legislation on any number of issues -- the Virginia governor's race could be a window through which we can speculate how the Congressional races might pan out.
Democrats stayed home in Virginia in part because they were unenthused with the party's candidate, Creigh Deeds. His unorganized campaign, combined with the fact that he shunned help from the White House until the very end and painted himself as a moderate, left the base wanting, while McDonnell energized the GOP base and even managed to paint himself as enough of a moderate to pick up a few independents.
Looking nationally, there are some lukewarm feelings toward Democrats in Congress -- either toward the Blue Dogs who are opposed to health care reform's most popular aspect or the Democratic leadership for failing to corrall the party together or the President's perceived inability to act on his campaign promises.
While the GOP looks no better, with its stance of opposing everything President Obama proposes simply because President Obama proposed them, the Republicans do a far better job of energizing their base -- even if that base is going through an identity crisis with the tea party protestors and the "conservative party" candidates.
That could mean seats in Congress turning red, and the very real possibility of the House and/or Senate turning red. And if you think President Obama's facing too many obstacles to pass his agenda now, just imagine how hard change will be if he has to face a Republican majority on either side of Congress.
What would it take to excite the Democratic base? In the words of Daily Kos blogger Steve Sinsiger, "Finish health care. Pass a jobs bill. Finish the climate bill. Re-regulate the financial industry. Finish the education bill. Pick up immgration reform. Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'."
Seems simple enough; if Democrats actually pass bills relating to the agendas the American people supported in November 2008, they're more likely to vote to keep the party in power in 2010. But without anything concrete to point to in the name of progress, what is there for Democrats to show to their base to get them excited?
Democrats need to get things done to close the "enormous enthusiasm gap" between the parties, or the base will stay home -- effectively handing seats to the GOP. Democratic voters staying home will make the right's job in 2010 so much easier, because elections won't be so tight. That the Democrats will lose some seats isn't in dispute -- the Blue Dogs are facing anger from their own electorates, and there have been threats of Democratic primaries in some cases -- but the question remains:
If Democrats fall in 2010, do they fall to other Democrats, or to Republicans? If these poll numbers hold true, the country's going to turn red again this time next year. I don't know about the rest of you, but after the bulk of this decade, I can't handle that again.
If voters on the left stay home, and the GOP gets back in the majority, I don't want to hear progressives bitching about not having majority status in D.C. anymore. You don't vote, you lose your right to complain.
Simple as that.