We already knew the Republicans were pumped about the fall midterm elections. But a new Gallup poll shows just how big the enthusiasm gap is: An average 59 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are “more enthusiastic than usual” about voting in November than in previous elections, the highest such figure for either party in a midterm since Gallup started asking the question in 1994.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters clock at 44 percent “more enthusiastic than usual” – not bad compared with previous midterm years. In 1994, when the Democrats lost control of the House for the first time in 40 years, only 32 percent of Democrats were enthusiastic. In 1998, Democratic enthusiasm came in at 36 percent, and in 2002, it was 38 percent.
In all three of those prior years, Republican enthusiasm was higher, and the GOP ended up doing better than the Democrats in the midterms.
“The enthusiasm question has generally provided an accurate indication of which party will fare better in the midterm elections,” Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones writes.
The Gallup averages are based on four measures of enthusiasm taken since February. The USA Today/Gallup poll taken June 11-13 showed an enthusiasm gap that was particularly alarming for Democrats: Fifty-three percent of Republicans were more enthusiastic than usual, compared with 39 percent who were less enthusiastic. Among Democrats, 35 percent were more enthusiastic and 56 percent were less. The Republicans’ net positive of 14 percentage points, combined with the Democrats’ net negative of 21 points, makes for the largest relative party advantage for the GOP ever taken by Gallup in a single midterm-election-year poll.
But the Democrats, who currently enjoy large majorities in both houses of Congress, aren’t giving up. They fully expect to lose seats this fall, so the real question is how to limit the losses and prevent the Republicans from taking over either or both chambers. The Democratic National Committee is trying to build on its voter-registration success in 2008, particularly in terms of young and minority voters. But without President Obama on the ballot, the Democrats could have a hard time turning out the first-time voters of ’08, let alone new voters in 2010.
Democratic leaders are trying to frame the election as a choice, not a referendum. Last week’s apology to BP by Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas – who called the oil giant’s new $20 billion escrow fund for Gulf oil-spill victims a “shakedown” by Mr. Obama – handed the Democrats an easy talking point.
"There is a choice that Joe Barton has offered the American people, a philosophy for the Republican Party, which is that BP is the aggrieved party," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” "That's a governing philosophy. In the coming weeks, you'll see the president speak to the country about these competing different philosophies. That is, do you have only the energy executives in the room, or do you have energy executives, environmentalists, and other people from the venture-capital community to come to a consensus on energy policy?”
The Republican establishment distanced itself from Representative Barton almost as soon as he made his statement – and extracted an apology from him, on penalty of losing his ranking committee position. But Democrats are ignoring that part and trying to make Barton into a GOP poster boy for laissez faire capitalism.
In addition, while Democrats are grappling with internal divisions, they are hopeful that the Republicans’ own intramural battles – the conservative tea-party movement versus more-mainstream GOP candidates – will help save some endangered Democrats, including Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
Democrats can also look hopefully at the one midterm, in 1998, in which the Republicans enjoyed an enthusiasm gap most of the year until the gap shifted slightly in the final poll to the Democrats’ favor. The Democrats ended up gaining seats.