Signs of progressive malaise
This gut feeling of mine is reflected in national polls. According to well-respected Gallup, only19% of American adults approved of the performance of the Democratic-controlled Congress last month, with disapproval a whopping 75%. But more telling is that its approval rating even among fellow Democrats is a mere 38%. Gallup’s most recent weekly generic ballot preference poll gave Republicans a 10-point advantage, the largest GOP edge in Gallup's history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress. That’s even worse than reported by Rasmussen Reports, which critics regard as more Republican oriented.
But the statistic that zeroes in on progressive malaise is the “enthusiasm gap.” In Gallup’s June11-13 poll for USA Today, 35% of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting while 56% were less enthusiastic, for a net score of -21%. In contrast, Republicans scored +14% (53%/39%). That 35-point gap is the largest relative party enthusiasm advantage Gallup has measured in any single midterm-election poll.
These measures of progressive malaise are not just short-term responses to disappointment of the so-called “recovery summer,” because signs appeared much earlier in the year. As early as last April, Gallup reported that Americans' favorable rating of the Democratic Party had dropped to the lowest point in the 18-year history of that measure. At 41%, Democrats actually trailed Republicans by a point. That compares to the 11-point lead that Democrats enjoyed a year ago. If that sentiment were measured today, Democrats would fare even worse.
More foreshadowing unfolded with the passing of filing deadlines (late March in Missouri and even earlier elsewhere). Democrats failed to contest 20 congressional seats this year (including Missouri’s 9th District), while Republicans defaulted in only five. This marks only the seventh time since 1920 that Democrats are contesting fewer congressional districts than Republicans. In contrast, in the past two congressional elections, Democratic general election candidates outnumbered Republicans by 34 in 2006 and by 28 in 2008, the two elections in which Democrats built their majorities that they seem to be trying to lose in this election. Here in Missouri, there are only 17 state senate seats on the ballot, but Democrats could find candidates for only 12 of them. There are more defaults on the Democratic ticket (five) than on the Republican ticket (three), a rarity in Missouri. The situation is even more pronounced in contests for the Missouri house, where Democrats were unable to recruit candidates in 42 districts (more than a quarter of the total), compared to only 29 defaults by Republicans. At least one uncontested district (the 3rd) is one that Democrats actually held earlier this decade.
A symptom of the malaise among local progressive activists is the absence of any left-of-Democrat parties on the Missouri ballot this year. The Progressive Party of Missouri was unable to collect enough signatures to place its candidates on the Missouri ballot. The Green Party of St. Louis filed no candidates for office in St. Louis, where it has ballot status, even though no petition signatures were required. The Greens had filed at least one candidate for citywide office in every even-numbered election since 2000. There is little incentive now for voters of the principled left to bother to vote.
Democrats are not so much losing to Republicans as they are beating themselves. In a recent Rasmussen poll that showed solid majorities of voters disapproving of both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), their pitiful approval ratings were actually better than those of their Republican counterparts.