I was part of a post-election panel at Sonoma State University today where we talked a lot about the Democrats and Republicans. In retrospect, I think we overlooked a potentially decisive group of voters – those who either aren’t members or aren’t committed to either party.

That’s non-aligned bloc is getting bigger and bigger. In California, more than 3.5 million voters don’t belong to either party, slightly more than 20 percent of the electorate.

By and large, those voters were with Obama and the Democrats two years ago. And, California aside, by and large, they were with the Republicans this year.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out on the PBS NewsHour last week, polls show that moderates abandoned Obama early on, the spring of ‘09. I don’t think that’s because they suddenly became Republicans, anymore than I think they suddenly became Democrats in 2008.

The bank bailout pleased no one. The stimulus bill wasn’t popular, and it hasn’t had the results that the administration predicted. Even if things would have been worse, that’s hard to demonstrate. The Democrats looked pretty ineffectual in Congress, even when they had the votes to push things through the Senate. In short, the party of activist government either didn’t move the levers of power very well or government activism wasn’t the answer. I think that chased off the swing voters.

Can the Democrats get them back for 2012? Sure. Can the Republicans keep them for 2012? Sure. For the Democrats, it will be about persuading people that government can contribute to an economic recovery. Republicans, meanwhile, better avoid the overreach that we saw in 1995. Shutting down the government was step one in the Democrats’ recovery.

— Jim Sweeney

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