Politico reports this morning, the “enthusiasm gap keeps getting worse for Dems” as Republicans hold a 17-point advantage over Democrats, “a massive advantage that has foreshadowed devastating losses in Congress in prior years.”
No need to leave you with a quote from me. Politico said it best, “It’s beginning to look like nothing is going to bail the party out this year.”
In case you missed it…
‘We’ve got to stop fooling ourselves’: Enthusiasm gap keeps getting worse for Dems
March 31, 2022
At the end of October, Republicans held an 11-percentage-point advantage in voter enthusiasm. By January, that margin had ticked up to 14 points. Now, according to the most recent NBC News poll, it has swelled to 17 — a massive advantage that has foreshadowed devastating losses in Congress in prior years.
The latest poll would be bad enough for Democrats. But it’s the trend line that is especially grim, seemingly impervious to a series of events — including President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address and the nomination of a judge to the Supreme Court — that Democrats had predicted might improve their candidates’ prospects in the fall.
It’s beginning to look like nothing is going to bail the party out this year. The last time the enthusiasm gap was this wide, in 2010, Democrats lost more than 60 seats in the House.
“Things could change,” said David Axelrod, previously an adviser to former President Barack Obama, in an email. “But with only a quarter of the country believing things are headed in the right direction, the president sitting at a 40 or 42 [percent] approval and inflation at a 40-year high, the atmosphere clearly is not promising for Democrats to buck historical trends.”
Even without the enthusiasm gap — a measure of voters’ level of interest in the midterm elections — Democrats would be limping toward November. They are saddled with Biden’s weak job approval numbers and have fallen behind Republicans on the generic ballot — two leading indicators of midterm performance.
But now they’re confronting a super-charged Republican electorate, too. In the NBC poll, about two-thirds of Republicans say they have a high level of interest in the midterm elections, compared to half of Democrats. The party’s current enthusiasm deficit is a reversal from 2018, when Democrats retook the House.
The NBC poll wasn’t a one-off. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll on Wednesday registered a double-digit spread between the share of Democrats and Republicans who are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting in the midterms and a smaller — but still measurable — gap when accounting for voters who say they are only “very” enthusiastic.
This is far from an academic concern. Facing traditional midterm headwinds, many Democrats had already resigned themselves to losing the House. And Democrats saw what a high level of enthusiasm could do for their opposition last fall, when Republican Glenn Youngkin upset Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, won reelection, but by a far narrower margin than expected. The party out of power — this year, the party of “Let’s Go, Brandon,” energized by Trump’s false claims that 2020 was “rigged” — is almost always more excited to vote.
“We’ve got to stop fooling ourselves here,” said Julie Roginsky, a former top adviser to Murphy. “It would be a challenging environment, anyway, because the midterm election of an incumbent president whose party controls both houses always is. Layer on top of that concerns about inflation, concerns about the economy generally and concerns about what’s going on in foreign policy right now, and it becomes problematic.”
There’s little reason to think much will change. For months, Democrats pinned hopes for a turnaround to the possibility that Covid or inflation would subside, or that Democrats might energize base voters by passing even more legislation than the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and massive infrastructure package already enacted. Most recently, they saw Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement — and Biden’s historic nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace him — as an opening to energize young voters and people of color, two core Democratic constituencies.
Biden told Democratic National Committee members at their meeting earlier this month that “we are in the strongest position we’ve been in in months,” with the possibility they could keep the House.
Less than three weeks later, the numbers are bleak. In the NBC poll, more than seven in 10 Americans say things generally in the nation are on the wrong track. Only a third of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, by far the overarching concern in the midterms. Biden’s approval rating, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average, sits below 42 percent. And while two-thirds of Democrats in the spring of 2018 registered a high level of interest in that year’s midterms — presaging a successful midterm election for the Democratic Party — just 50 percent of Democrats do today.
The enthusiasm gap, said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, is a “pretty significant challenge for organizers.”
“It’s, ‘What do we tell people that will motivate them to get out and vote?’ And the challenge is you’ve got at the national level a lot of frustration that a lot of the promises that Biden made didn’t end up becoming actual policy,” he said.
It’s possible that Democrats will turn out despite their enthusiasm deficit. That happened in last year’s races, including the recall election in California, when Democrats — while measurably less excited about voting than Republicans — nevertheless trudged to the polls, persuaded that rejecting a recall of the state’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, was better than the Republican alternative.
Molly Murphy, a Democratic pollster and president at Impact Research, the firm that was Biden’s lead pollster in the 2020 election, said that in battleground districts and states — the places where control of Congress will be decided — internal Democratic polling suggests there is not a significant enthusiasm gap. And in states like Wisconsin and Georgia, where Democrats are running in competitive elections against incumbent Republicans, there is some optimism among Democrats that they may be able to shift voters’ focus away from Washington, turning anti-incumbent sentiment against a Republican governor or senator.
In Wisconsin, Ben Wikler, the state Democratic Party chair, said, “Even in tough environments, there are always some states that run counter to trend.” Democratic Party officials in Wisconsin said they saw a spike in online donations and volunteer sign-ups since the state’s polarizing Republican senator, Ron Johnson, announced his run for reelection earlier this year.
“You always need an enemy,” said Irene Lin, who is managing Democrat Tom Nelson’s Senate campaign in Wisconsin. “At least in Wisconsin, our enemy is Ron Johnson. But nationally, you’re much more vulnerable to whatever’s going on in D.C.”
For many voters, she said, “They just see it as, ‘You guys are in charge, and you’re screwing up.’”
Seven months before the November election, there is a widespread belief among Democrats that there is still time for the mood of the electorate to shift — if not enough to save their majority in the House, to at least limit their losses there, and to keep the Senate.
Inflation could ease. The Jan. 6 select committee investigating Trump’s effort to overturn the result of the 2020 election could unearth more material damning to Republicans. A Supreme Court rollback of Roe v. Wade could trigger a Democratic spike in enthusiasm. In some states, an exciting down-ticket candidate or a ballot initiative related to abortion rights or the minimum wage could spark Democratic interest in the election.
In North Carolina, home to one of a handful of Senate races that could determine the balance of power in the upper chamber in 2022, Aimy Steele, executive director of the New North Carolina Project, which is working to register and turn out voters of color, said organizers are “seeing excitement” for Jackson’s nomination.
But it’s too early in the year for those people to connect that excitement to voting, she said.
“Have they made the connection with how this impacts their involvement in politics or their involvement in the electoral process?” she asked. “Absolutely not.”
It’s that kind of disconnect that Democrats are having difficulty overcoming. Danielle Cendejas, a Democratic mail strategist whose firm did campaign mail for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, said, “Right now, it feels like if you’re a Democrat and you got Biden elected and you had all of these things you thought were going to get better in your daily life — and now it doesn’t feel like there’s much progress on that — we as a party need to figure out how to tell people giving Republicans power isn’t the answer.”
She said, “It’s figuring out how do we localize a lot of these national issues to get people motivated and engaged, because we want to show that we’re solving problems.”
But Democrats have been trying to make that case for months — around Covid and infrastructure spending, around the Supreme Court. None of it has stuck. Instead, it’s Republicans — not Democrats — who are more excited to vote in the fall.
“Goddammit man, it’s so infuriating,” said Kelly Dietrich, a former Democratic fundraiser and founder of the National Democratic Training Committee, which trains candidates across the country. “It’s easier to tear shit down than it is to build shit up … It’s much easier to frame people who are actively trying to build and accomplish things as failing and incompetent than it is to provide your alternative solution.”
He said, “What I’m seeing — and from talking to people — is a little bit of this exasperation. We’re trying to do the right things here … But our society seems to have gone batshit.”