Could Low Turnout Torpedo the Dems in 2010?

The biggest headache for the Democrats in 2010 might not be insurgent Republicans, but the party’s own disspirted supporters. With enthusiasm flagging amid the liberal base, low turnout could threaten Democratic candidates’ chances in swing states, even in electorates where the party still has a lot of support. In North Carolina, Public Policy Polling has found that the big problem for Democrats isn’t that voters have turned their backs on the party, but that a major chunk of voters simply aren’t planning to show up to the polls for this year’s midterm elections.

According to PPP, only about 6 percent of Obama voters in North Carolina were planning to vote Republican for the state legislature races. It’s a relatively small number, considering that Obama carried the state in 2008*—and by comparison, some 4 percent of McCain backers in the state say they’re planning to vote Democratic.

The real obstacle may lie in convincing Democratic supporters to actually come out to the polls. “Where 11% more Democrats than Republicans voted in North Carolina in 2008, at this point only 6% more Democrats than Republicans are planning to vote in 2010,” PPP says. “That may not seem like a huge change but it’s certainly enough to flip a lot of close races.” While lower turnout is endemic during any midterm year, it’s a particular concern for Democrats right now given their dispirited base and the reenergized Republicans.

So Democrats in North Carolina and elsewhere will soon need to make a big push to close the enthusiasm gap. And they could gain a boost from progressive challengers like North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, the leading Democratic candidate for Republican Richard Burr’s Senate seat, who has already made a concerted effort to build up grassroots support. Having already received the endorsement of state and national women’s groups and PACs, as well as some labor support, Marshall’s campaign has the potential to mobilize the ground troops that she and other Democratic challengers will need to come within striking distance this fall.

*Correction: The original post had misstated Obama’s margin of victory.