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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

July 24: Curbing Enthusiasm About the “Enthusiasm Gap”

The “enthusiasm gap” as a predictor of electoral outcomes is one of the Pew Research Group’s less valuable contributions to political analysis. So I took a few shots today at Washington Monthly at Pew’s latest offerings on this subject:

Pew is back with its latest estimates of the GOP “enthusiasm gap” at this point in the midterm cycle. Here’s the relatively good, or perhaps relatively not-so-bad, news for Democrats:

Today, the Republicans lead on a number of key engagement indicators, though in some cases by smaller margins than four years ago. Currently, 45% of registered voters who plan to support the Republican in their district say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in prior congressional elections; that compares with 37% of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate. The GOP had a 13-point enthusiasm advantage at this point in the midterm campaign four years ago (55% to 42%) and the Democrats held a 17-point advantage eight years ago (47% to 30%).
However, as many voters who support the Republican in their district say they are “absolutely certain” to vote this fall as said this in June 2010. Three-quarters of Republican voters (76%) say they are absolutely certain to vote, compared with 67% of Democratic voters. Four years ago, 77% of Republican voters and 64% of Democratic voters said they were absolutely certain to vote in the fall.

As regular readers have heard me say on many occasions, voter “enthusiasm” is an inherently questionable metric for likely voter turnout, insofar as “enthusiasm” beyond that needed to get one to the polls is wasted unless it’s somehow communicated (e.g., via volunteer activity).
Another thing to keep in mind when trying to compare this midterm to the last two is that in 2006 and 2010 the party with the least “enthusiasm” was grossly over-extended, particularly in the House, thanks to prior victories in marginal territory. That’s certainly not true of House Democrats today, though you can certainly make an argument Senate Democrats are over-extended in the South.
In any event, these type of surveys are really just a placeholder until late-cycle polls begin to get a grip on the universe of “likely voters.”

So Republicans excited about the “enthusiasm gap” should curb their enthusiasm. And Democrats should focus on the hard, practical work of getting people to the polls who will vote for the Donkey Party, with or without high levels of “enthusiasm.”

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