EDITOR'S NOTE: The story below includes references to polling conducted by the firm Research 2000. The reliability and accuracy of Research 2000's polling has since been called into serious question by a report published in June 2010 by a group of statistical analysts.
Massachusetts voters who backed Barack Obama in the presidential election a year ago and either switched support to Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown or simply stayed home, said in a poll conducted after the election Tuesday night that if Democrats enact tougher policies on Wall Street, they'll be more likely to come back to the party in the next election.
A majority of Obama voters who switched to Brown said that "Democratic policies were doing more to help Wall Street than Main Street." A full 95 percent said the economy was important or very important when it came to deciding their vote.
In a somewhat paradoxical finding, a plurality of voters who switched to the Republican -- 37 percent -- said that Democrats were not being "hard enough" in challenging Republican policies.
It would be hard to find a clearer indication, it seems, that Tuesday's vote was cast in protest.
The poll also upends the conventional understanding of health care's role in the election. A plurality of people who switched -- 48 -- or didn't vote -- 43 -- said that they opposed the Senate health care bill. But the poll dug deeper and asked people why they opposed it. Among those Brown voters, 23 percent thought it went "too far" -- but 36 percent thought it didn't go far enough and 41 percent said they weren't sure why they opposed it.
Among voters who stayed home and opposed health care, a full 53 percent said they opposed the Senate bill because it didn't go far enough; 39 percent weren't sure and only eight percent thought it went too far.
The firm Research 2000 conducted the post-election survey Tuesday night on behalf of three progressive organizations -- the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and MoveOn.org.
Taken from interviews of 500 Obama backers who voted in the Senate election and 500 Obama backers who sat out the election, the firm discovered that 18 percent of Obama backers who voted in the Senate race ended up casting ballots for Brown.
Of that group, 82 percent said they favored a public option for insurance coverage, with 14 percent opposed. Of those who sat out the election, 86 percent favored the public option, while only seven percent opposed it. The findings suggests that progressive arguments that disappointed Obama supporters deserted have serious merit.
UPDATE: With little, if any, historical precedent for the current situation in Congress, anything is possible on Capitol Hill over the next few weeks. Progressives have seized on the chaos and the polling numbers above to argue that the message voters sent was that Democrats haven't been bold enough. So far, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Senate to put the public option back into the health care bill and pass it using the parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation, which only requires 50 votes plus the vice president. Meanwhile, top Democrats are taking the idea seriously.
"Congressional Democrats have now been given fair warning by voters about what they expect in 2010: faster change, bolder change, and a willingness to fight big corporations on behalf of the little guy," said Adam Green, whose organization is leading the petition effort. "The Lieberman-Nelson strategy lost Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Now it's time to push the public option through reconciliation -- and then, on to strong Wall Street accountability."