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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Beyond The Mother of All Bummer Midterm Polls

The political websites are all abuzz about the latest Gallup generic ballot poll, which indicates an all time midterm GOP advantage of 10 percent. If that wasn’t downer enough for you, here’s a couple of nut graphs Harry Enten’s Pollster.com post, “Underestimating the Likely Gallup Voter Edge:

…As noted, a 10% Republican lead on Gallup’s generic ballot is unprecedented, and it will likely get worse once Gallup switches over to a likely voter model. Congressmen and political analysts alike have mentioned that Republicans could possibly do 4% better on a likely voter model. Upon further examination, however, I think it could be worse for Democrats. Why? History.
Gallup has a relatively famous likely voter model that has been in place since 1950. Therefore, we can compare past differences in the generic ballot between registered and likely voter models to give us an idea of how different they will be this year…

Entern then crunches data from final Gallup midterm polls since 1994, comparing rv and lv figures, along with “enthusiasm gap” data, and offers two observations:

First, Republicans have for the past four midterms always done better on the final Gallup likely voter poll than registered voter poll by at least 4%. This deviation is to be expected as midterm electorates tend to be older and whiter than presidential year ones.
Second, the gap between the likely and registered models benefited Republicans greatest in years where they had large leads in enthusiasm. In both 1994 and 2002 (where Republicans held at least a 8%+ edge in Gallup’s final measure of enthusiasm), the Republicans margin was 7% and 11% higher respectively on the likely voter model. In 1998 and 2002 when Democrats had a lead in enthusiasm, they “only” picked up 5% and 4%. The Republicans edge on net enthusiasm was 28% a month ago, which means that voters this year are even more enthusiastic than in 1994 or 2002….

OK, that’s bad. Worse, Enten concludes:

…I believe that it is quite possible that at least on the final Gallup generic ballot (prior ones may differ) the Republican margin on the likely voter model could be 5-10% greater than on the registered voter model.

Polling data for numerous individual races lends cred to the national polls, including Gallup. True, Gallup has had some issues on occasion with accusations of GOP bias. But now that most of the polls have turned quite sour for Dems, it’s hard to deny that Republicans have opened up a big lead in numerous races, whether or not Gallup overstates the GOP lead by a few points.
While there is little encouragement for Dems in recent polling numbers, at least it does appear that Democrats are getting together a decent ground game for the midterms. That doesn’t mean the Republicans won’t match or top it. And not to lard too much lipstick on the pig, but I’m also encouraged that Dems are targeting seniors — the “older and whiter” voters Enten cites above. As Chris Cilliza explains in his ‘The Fix’ post, “Can Social Security save Democrats this fall?” at WaPo:

Democrats, faced with a worsening national political climate and daunting historical midterm election trends, are turning to Social Security as an issue where they believe they can score political points and set the stakes of what a Republican-controlled Congress would look like.
At least a half-dozen Democratic House candidates as well as several Democratic Senators in tight re-election races have featured claims that the GOP wants to either privatize or eliminate the retirement plan entirely in new television ads, and party strategists promise there are far more commercials to come.

Cillizza spotlights an impressive video ad by Indiana Democrat Rep. Baron Hill, who blasts his Republican opponent, Todd Young, who called Social Security and Medicare “welfare programs.” Cillizza cites several other Democratic House and Senate candidates who have launched similar ads, and he adds,

The strategy behind the Democratic attacks is simple. Older voters are deeply suspicious of any changes to the retirement program — it’s not an accident that Social Security is referred to as the “third rail of American politics” — and they also happen to be the most reliable voters in lower turnout midterm elections.
According to exit polling from the 2006 midterms, nearly three in ten (29 percent) of voters were 60 and older; Democrats won that age group 50 percent to 48 percent.

Cillizza cautions that Social Security is a relatively low priority concern in voter rankings, well behind the economy. But with seniors, it’s always a hot button issue. Not all Republicans have attacked Social Security quite so stupidly as has Todd Young, although Sharron Angle and others could give him a run for the booby prize.
Ironically, the Democratic outreach to seniors seeks to tap their conservative (as in ‘cautious’) perspective — the wingnut campaign to eliminate Social Security is a radical idea, and few seniors would volunteer to be their guinea pigs. if Dems can gain an edge with seniors and turn out a larger than usual percentage of Latino and African American voters, and if the voter registration edge Dems now have translates into a better than average mid-term turnout, the much-trumpeted Republican takeover of congress will have to wait for another year.

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