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July 24, 2014 12:47 PM More, Always More, on the “Enthusiasm Gap”

By Ed Kilgore

As officials score-keepers of voter “enthusiasm,” 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.” Then we’ll have a better sense of which party has reason to feel enthusiastic about turnout.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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