For the Connecticut Democrat, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In the case of the upcoming midterm, sitting back and enjoying various polls’ good news is a stunningly bad idea.
That’s even in Connecticut, with a Republican Party that can’t seem to find its way. No matter how much money candidates spend on political ads, Trumpian tactics – braggadocious threats and schoolyard name-calling – have limited pull here. I’m not even sure those tactics have wide appeal elsewhere. I just flew back from a blood-red county in a blood-red state, and even there, folks are sick of the bombast.
The corollary is that if Connecticut Republicans want a shot in this deeply blue state, they should abandon Trump’s nonsense, and provide for voters some serious suggestions as to how to improve the state.
Then again, all bets are off if Democrats start getting cocky. Gov. Ned Lamont, who in the polls leads his Republican opponent Bob Stefanowski by a whole lot, is spending more time encouraging Democrats to vote than he is encouraging Democrats to vote for him. That makes sense. If the past is precedent, when an election’s outcome seems like a sure thing, supporters of the projected winner stay home.
Of course, it is easy to become complacent if you’re a blue dog in a blue state. Connecticut hasn’t handed a victory to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, with their hometown guy George H.W. Bush. (The state hasn’t been as parsimonious with its votes for Republican gubernatorial candidates. See: M. Jodi Rell, who after finishing a term created by the resignation of John G. Rowland, went on to win her own term in 2006.)
Lamont knows he must keep the fires lit beneath the base because complacency means death. Complacency brought us the end of Roe v. Wade, when many of us convinced ourselves there really was such a thing as settled law. That was silly, and Christian nationalists aren’t stopping with outright banning abortion.
Complacency also delivered us Trump. People who didn’t support him figured the candidate would get distracted in his toddle toward the Oval Office, and then he would peel off before he’d done much damage. Or we figured voters would grow tired of his circus-fire of a campaign, and they would peel off first. Complacency may have also allowed anti-Trumpers to forget that it wasn’t just one man seeking to bluster his way into power. It was a host of people willing to stoop as low as it took to win an election. And when that didn’t work in 2020, they settled on lying about the outcome and launching an armada of bogus (and unsuccessful) lawsuits.
Frankly, complacency – and I say this as a card-carrying lefty – also keeps us locked into the state’s business-as-usual politics, which continue to serve up safe candidates who won’t rock the boat and won’t ask too much of us, and who also won’t address the system that isn’t serving all of us because that system is serving just enough.
Researchers have begun to look at the role complacency plays in what are known as “extreme democratic outcomes” – or consequential political outcomes that aren’t what pollsters predicted, such as Brexit or the election of Donald Trump. The dark horse wins – or the unthinkable referendum is passed – when the motivated minority shows up to vote. For Brexit and Trump, polls told the majority dissenters that Brexit wouldn’t pass and Trump wouldn’t win, so why bother?
Lamont’s and others’ efforts to turn out the vote are much needed, though the previous presidential administration may have served enough as a shock to the democratic (small d) system. Midterms tend to deliver voter turn-out in the low 40% range, but in 2018, voter turnout in Connecticut’s midterm hit nearly 66%.
That same year, voter turnout nationwide among historically-disengaged 18-to-24-year olds doubled from the previous midterm, to 34%. In fact, according to the U.S. Census, voter turnout increased among all demographics in the last midterm election. Engagement supplanted complacency.
This midterm, we have a Supreme Court majority that cheerfully sent us back to the bad old days. In response, women – particularly those in conservative states – have sloughed off complacency and registered to vote. I’m fairly sure that wasn’t so they can keep abortion inaccessible. In addition, we have candidates who continue to sow discord and spread the Big Lie on the off chance a confused citizenry will once again hand them the keys to the kingdom.
I want to think the American voter is paying attention, and I want to believe we are looking at another higher-than-normal midterm turnout. Those formerly inactive voters just may understand that democracy needs constant tending, and staying home is not an option.