Opinion

Boehner will fail, and Democrats will pounce in 2012

Republicans didn't sweep these elections for grand ideological reasons, but because not enough of the Democratic base showed up to vote. Exit polls also show that angry voters who flocked to Republicans will end up disappointed in their actual policies. And in 2012, Democrats will be ready.

The 2010 elections have come and gone, and Democrats found out what happens when they neglect their base and fail to deliver jobs for the American people.

First things first, the exit polls tell us what this election was not. It was not an embrace of the Republican Party. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the voter opinion of the Republican Party (42 percent favorable) was less favorable than that of the Democratic Party (43 percent favorable). Yet 23 percent of those who viewed the GOP unfavorably still voted for them anyway.

Full of contradictions

While 35 percent of voters believed that Wall Street was to blame for the terrible economy, that cohort still voted for Republicans by a 56 to 42 margin. It’s a GOP con of masterful proportions – embrace Wall Street and its money, yet still win the votes of the financial industry’s biggest critics.

Of the 47 percent of voters who want the health care law as is or even expanded, 44 percent of them voted Republican. The GOP, of course, has made repeal of the law a central tenet of its agenda.

And of the 37 percent of voters who felt the next Congress’s highest priority should be more government spending to create jobs, 30 percent voted for Republicans. Boy, will that bunch be disappointed!

Voters had to punish someone

Bottom line, Democrats didn't lose because Republicans are suddenly popular, or people embrace their agenda. Democrats lost because people are angry and desperate and flailing and had to punish someone for the nation's economic woes. Of course, it didn’t help that core Democratic voters didn’t turn out in the necessary numbers.

The 2008 electorate was 74 percent white, 13 percent black, and 9 percent Latino. This week, it was 78, 10, and 8 percent, respectively. That’s a four-point swing in favor of white voters. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an extra net 3.6 million white votes. And given whites voted Republican by a 60 to 37 margin, that was 2.2 million votes banked by Republicans in a contest that featured myriad tight races. Flip just 150,000 votes in Pennsylvania and Illinois, and the Democrats hold both those Senate seats.

In addition, the white voters most likely to vote Democratic – the millennials – suffered from depressed turnout. In 2008, 18-to-29-year-olds made up 18 percent of the electorate, while those 65-plus made up 16 percent. More youngsters voted than seniors. This year, the young cohort was down to 11 percent, while seniors were a whopping 23 percent of the electorate. That's a 24-point flip, significant because the youngsters voted Democratic 57 to 40, while the seniors opted GOP by a 59 to 38 margin.

Weak turnout hurt Democrats – a lot

Without the core Democratic base at the polls, conservatives dominated the electorate, making up 41 percent of voters. In 2008, they were 34 percent of the total. Given that even moderates opted strongly for Democrats by a 55 to 42 margin this election, their relative scarcity compared to fired up conservatives wasn’t enough to offset those massive Republican gains.

The exit polls are clear, Democrats didn’t lose because of a sudden rightward switch in the country, but because elections are won by those whose voters show up to the polls. And last Tuesday, it was Republicans.

Don't get too comfortable, Boehner

Now, this new GOP-led House will make sure that nothing of note passes, and will try to gum up the works further with investigations into President Obama’s birth certificate and other such insanities. There’s nothing Democrats can do about that, but with power comes responsibility, and presumptive Speaker John Boehner will be under pressure to walk the line between the ideological purity his tea party base demands, and the pragmatism of governing. When he fails (and he will), Democrats need to be ready to pounce.

The last three cycles have proven that the House can swing wildly from extreme to extreme. We truly have an angry, downright schizophrenic electorate, ready to take out its frustrations on whomever is in power. The Democrats took the brunt of that anger in 2010. Unless they help turn things around in America, Republicans shouldn’t get too comfortable in their new congressional digs before 2012. Especially in a year when the Democratic base will turn out.

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is publisher of Daily Kos and author of "American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists to the Radical Right."

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