Democratic Base Is More Motivated, But Will They Vote This Fall?
Pew Center graphic
Yes, the Democrats are inept at making the case why they need to be returned to power in Congress. But will they back their way into control this fall simply because they are not rubber-stamping Republicans? A new Pew poll out yesterday indicates that this is possible.
With less than five months to go before Election Day, Democrats hold two distinct advantages in the midterm campaign that they have not enjoyed for some time. First, Americans continue to say they favor the Democratic candidate in their district, by a 51% to 39% margin. Second, the level of enthusiasm about voting among Democrats is unusually high, and is atypically low among Republicans. In fact, Democrats now hold a voter enthusiasm advantage that is the mirror image of the GOP's edge in voter zeal leading up to the 1994 midterm election.
Not only are Democrats, and especially liberal Democrats much more motivated to vote this fall than conservative Republicans, but independents seem to want a Democratic congress.
The question of which party controls Congress has the potential to be a major factor in the 2006 midterms. Fully 58% of voters say this issue will factor in their vote, up from 47% in 2002 and 45% in 1998. Partisan control of Congress is a major issue for Democrats, but nearly half of independent voters - who in past midterms have given less regard to party control - say the makeup of Congress matters to them. And most independents who say this plan to vote for the Democrat in their district.
And why do they want to vote Democratic?
The higher level of enthusiasm among Democratic voters is linked to two underlying attitudes: anger at the president and optimism about Democrats chances in the fall. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate in their district think of their vote this fall as a vote against George W. Bush. These anti-Bush voters are significantly more motivated to vote - 52% say they are more eager to vote this year than usual, compared with 39% among those who say Bush is not a factor in their vote.
Democratic voters also have an optimistic outlook for the fall - 64% think the party will do better in this year's congressional elections than it has in other recent elections. The heightened expectations among Democrats are strongly linked with increased interest in voting. More than half (55%) of Democratic voters who expect the party to make progress in the fall say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year, compared with just 34% who see the party doing about the same - or worse - as in recent elections.
Republicans, by contrast, have modest expectations for the fall elections. Just 19% think the GOP will do better in this year's midterms than in recent elections; 18% expect the party to fare worse; and 58% say the Republican Party will do about the same as it has in recent elections.
Yes, the GOP will use the typical wedge issues to get their voters to the polls late in the campaign under the radar screen with their computerized and targeted appears to get out the vote. But aside from immigration, will those issues matter? Guess which issues rated the lowest interest to respondents? Of the six lowest-ranked issues of concerns to registered voters, three of them were on Bill Frist’s agenda these last several weeks: gay marriage, the Paris Hilton Tax Cut, and the flag burning amendment. Respondents cared most about education, the economy, health care, Social Security, terrorism, and Iraq.
This poll’s sample had only a three-point Democratic advantage (35%-32%, 29% independent), so it could be argued that the results are understated.