GOP voters more enthusiastic about Nov. 4: By how much?

A new Pew poll gauged voter interest in the midterm elections and also found differences between Republicans and Democrats in identifying the most important issues facing the nation.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, Rep. Lamar S. Smith, R-Texas, Cruz, and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

Maybe their mouths are watering at the prospect of demoting Senate majority leader Harry Reid and putting new constraints on President Obama, but, for whatever reason, Republican voters are more enthusiastic than Democrats heading into a midterm election with control of Congress at stake.

The enthusiasm gap is on view in a new poll released Friday by the Pew Research Center, which finds Republican voters 12 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say they will vote on Nov. 4.

The poll also found registered Republicans 15 percentage points more likely to say they’ve given a lot of thought to the election. And Republicans also emerged as simply more enthusiastic about casting their vote.

Part of the reason may be that they are the party most “out of power” currently – yet also close enough that they can smell the possibility of success. As the campaign season heats up, polls in general show Republicans likely to hold onto their control of the House and to have a solid shot at wresting control of the Senate from Democrats.

Regardless of who wins, Mr. Obama has two more years as a Democratic occupant of the White House, and it appears that neither party will win a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority in the Senate. Still, control of the Senate would provide meaningful leverage for conservatives’ political agenda in Washington.

For one thing, a budget-related process of “reconciliation” could allow Republicans to pass some important legislation – possibly tax reform – with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes required to pass major legislation. 

A handful of key races – from Arkansas and Louisiana to Alaska and North Carolina – are expected to decide whether Democrats keep their Senate majority. 

Speaking of the budget, the Pew survey also found Republicans and Democrats sharply divided over what the most important issues facing the nation are.

“Foreign policy, the budget deficit and immigration are among the most dominant issues for Republican voters,” the Pew Research Center said in releasing the results.

Those issues are all named by 70 percent or more as “very important” to their vote – while only about half of Democratic voters said that.

For Democrats, the environment and economic inequality are vital to about 70 percent of voters, but to no more than about 4 in 10 Republicans.

Large majorities in both parties say leading issues also include the economy (it’s the top issue overall) and health care.

Gaps in enthusiasm aren't unusual in US politics. Often polls find a distinction between the preferences of likely voters and those of all registered voters.

For the Pew poll, registered voters are more prone to support Democrats than Republicans (by a 47 to 42 percent margin), but the results flip for likely voters, with 47 percent saying they generally favor a Republican candidate and 44 percent favoring a Democrat.

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