Democratic Enthusiasm: Overblown?

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 20, 2017 — In attempting to objectively look at the current electorate now one year before the next election, is Democratic enthusiasm about the party’s prospects of capturing the US House majority accurate or does their optimism exceed what the numbers actually say?

Several points need to be dispelled before examining the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll that gives the Democrats a 10-point advantage in the “enthusiasm gap.”

partisan polling splitFirst, let’s remember in looking at the current cycle’s House special election results that neither party lost a seat they previously held. This is particularly significant when Democrats use the argument in reference to the Kansas, Montana, and Georgia special elections that they over-performed even though failing to win any of the seats.

While they may have over-performed in relation to the Trump presidential percentage in Kansas and Montana, when looking back to the last time those particular seats were open the 2017 Republican special election performance was actually within the consistent realm. Therefore, as the Democratic strategists often say themselves, and correctly so, it is the Trump percentage that is generally the political anomaly and not the historical results.

” … a one-point victory in an election with such a flawed candidate, irrespective of Alabama’s voting history, simply cannot be considered the emerging beacon of a coming wave for the 2018 midterm elections.”

In Georgia, the Democrats and their allies spent a record $35 million on that particular special election campaign and still lost by four percentage points. The one seat where they unmistakably over-performed was the only special election where the party’s political apparatus didn’t target: the three-point Republican victory in the South Carolina electoral contest.

Moreover, last week’s Democratic victory in the special Alabama Senate election cannot be considered a signal of an oncoming wave election as many are trying to sell. With a 5:1 spending advantage in the state after the Republicans, for a time, deserted their nominee (and some, such as Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), never returned to the Roy Moore fold), the Democrats were successful in portraying the GOP candidate as a pedophile. Therefore, a one-point victory in an election with such a flawed candidate, irrespective of Alabama’s voting history, simply cannot be considered the emerging beacon of a coming wave for the 2018 midterm elections.

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal again teamed up to sponsor a jointly conducted national poll (Dec. 13-15; 900 US adults) from Hart Research Associates, a Democratic firm, and the Republican Public Opinion Strategies. Obviously, the methodology in this poll is sound, but be cognizant that the sampling universe is comprised of adults rather than registered or likely voters; hence, such a respondent group would contain a Democratic, or most probably, an anti-Trump skew.

Furthermore, the partisan division within the polling sample is 43D-33R, a sizable stretch when comparing to the latest Gallup party membership track (Nov. 2-8) that shows a 30D-25R split.

As mentioned in the opening, the key result from the NBC/WSJ findings indicates that Democrats are more enthused by a margin of approximately 10 percentage points. According to the NBC News reported analysis: “ … 59 percent of Democratic voters say they have a high level of interest in next year’s elections (registering either a nine or 10 on a 10-point scale), versus 49 percent of Republican voters saying the same thing. Additionally, 62 percent of voters who said they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 have a high level of interest in next year’s midterms, compared with 50 percent of Trump voters.”

The numbers are certainly believable. The president’s job approval is low, which has been typical for his entire tenure in office, but it is important to remember that President Trump’s approval rating on the day that he was elected also fell into the 38-40 percent range. Additionally, the Republican leadership has not delivered upon the promises made during the campaign period, which clearly is affecting motivation among GOP/conservative base voters.

Another point to consider: congressional approval, according to the Gallup organization at the time of the 2016 election, was 19:74 percent favorable to unfavorable. Yet, literally 97 percent of the incumbents who sought re-election to the House won in that same election (376 of 388).

At this point, the numbers suggest that Democrats would have a strong election if voting were today. With almost a full year before the midterm voters actually visit the polls, however, it is difficult to extrapolate exactly how the electorate will perform. And, very often a district-by-district analysis produces different results than national generic test polls. If not, Republicans would have rarely, if ever, held the majority in this modern political era.

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