I've never filled out a survey where I listed politics as one of my interests and yet the evidence speaks for itself: I tivo the O'Reilly show, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, Meet the Press with Tim Russert, This Week with George Stephanopolous and a few others. Part of it is an active interest since I live here (though, not yet eligible to vote) and another part is that with the US as a lone super power, local politics usually transfer into global ramifications. Understanding what drives them is key to understanding what happens next in the world.
At the end of 2006, we've got the US mid-term elections coming up. More than ever before, the Democrats are better poised to take down the Republican majority in both houses. The Republicans are, supposedly weaker than they've ever been: high oil prices, an increasingly contentious and, in fact, illegitimate war in Iraq, mutiny from the military regarding Rumsfeld, lobbying scandals affecting Tom DeLay and other notable Republican figures, the Terri Schiavo debacle, The Dubai Ports deal double debacle, the Katrina scandal and a President who's finding new ways to demonstrate his incompetence, his hypocrisy and his vested interest in every major decision he's taken.
In simple English, the Republicans have fucked up. So will the Dems capitalise? I don't think so..
The Democrats have yet to come up with a clear strategy for how they'd do things differently. Their strategy, to this point, has been lay low, vote with the Republicans on issues where they could be perceived to be unpatriotic if they didn't and oppose them on any other issue, just to stave off the throes of irrelevancy.
Another problem is that they don't, as an alternative to a strategy, offer a vision for how the future would play out. They'll say "Let's get our troops out of Iraq" but they won't say how we'll help Iraq or where those soldiers will go next, be it Iran or whatever. In a sense, they're hedging their bets because if you don't promise, you can't lose. Except you do because politics is a promise and deliver business.
Thirdly, the issues that the Dems are challenging the Republicans on are complex issues that, outside of Washington, people don't care about or really understand. Or, if they do, they don't immediately see it as a problem that was created due to the Republicans' stewardship. It's kind of like the Republicans have convinced the nation that all the problems for which they might be perceived as culpable are of the 'falling safe' variety: "A safe fell on our head...if it had been the Dems, the same thing would have happened!"
Fourthly, there's no real difference between the two parties anymore. Long gone are the days when you could classify a Republican as a fiscal conservative or a Democrat as someone who advocates big government. People recognize that the only real differentiator between the two parties, when it comes to politics, is that they are aligned with a profile of their constituents to whom they are unquestionably loyal.
Finally, and all the reasons listed above underscore this, when the people don't believe that any truth or clear edge separates the two parties, they will always vote with values and familiarity and status quo. The burden of change or proof of change is on the challenger, not the incumbent. And the only proof that the Dems have offered so far is that they do not, and will not, get along with the Republicans. Both parties appear petty, trivial and inefficient and yet only the Dems have to prove that.
The only case that the Dems have made so far is that the Repubicans have screwed them, not the more egregious crime which they need to point out: that the Republicans are screwing the American people.
PS The Presidency race isn't as clear cut, for two reasons: the 9/11 effect will be 7 years removed which won't give the Republicans the 'Survivor immunity' they've enjoyed for the past few years. Secondly, the presidency has always been, primarily, a popularity contest.