Is the Enthusiasm Gap Closing?

Buoyed because they are not losing in all strong Democratic states or districts, there is a whistling past the grave yard argument being made by some Dems and pundits that the enthusiasm gap is closing. And that’s partly true.

The enthusiasm gap has narrowed slightly. But it was bound to narrow. The 2010 enthusiasm gap was the Grand Canyon of all election cycles. Now, the gap has done some natural tightening, but it is still just as lethal for the Democrats as it is to drive a Segway off a 30 foot cliff.

Late last week, I completed eleven polls in seats Democrats need to win to avoid a bloodbath. In all eleven of those seats, the Democratic candidate (nine incumbents, two open seats) was trailing by more among the most interested voters than they were on the initial ballot.

A very cautious measure of the enthusiasm gap found it worth an average of an extra 4.6 points for Republicans on the ballot, adding anywhere from two to eight points to the GOP ballot score. That is a significant boost in close elections.

The enthusiasm gap is not going to add double digits to the GOP vote. It’s not going to add more than five points. In the 2009 Governor’s race, Bob McDonnell would have won with 55% in a typical turnout year, but because of the Republican enthusiasm advantage, we won with nearly 59%. That extra eight points (add four to McDonnell, subtract four from Creigh Deeds) is at the higher end of what is possible – and not likely in a year when 2010 turnout will be higher nationally than 2009 turnout was in Virginia.

However, a two to four point enthusiasm gap on Election Day means the close races that in 2006 and 2008 had gone to the Democrats now have a different finger on the scale. That’s the double difference an enthusiasm gap makes – close challenger and open seat races go overwhelmingly to the party that is motivated, and troubled incumbents in tough situations survive when they otherwise might not have done so.

So, is there going to be an enthusiasm gap that provides Republicans with eight to ten point boosts? Only in the campaigns where unicorns roam and rainbows glisten every day. In the rest of the races, Republicans will be content to benefit from their two-to-four point additional turnout boost, and, like Maxwell the pig in the brilliant Geico commercial, cheer “Whee, Whee, Whee” in celebration all the way home on Election Night.


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