Horowitz: Voter Enthusiasm for Mid-Terms at Record High

Tuesday, October 02, 2018
Rob Horowitz, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

More than 6-in-10 registered voters are “more enthusiastic than usual” about voting in the upcoming mid-term elections, the highest percentage in more than two decades, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. 

While enthusiasm is high among self-identified members of both parties, Democrats have a marked advantage with 67 %  of those intending to vote for the Democratic Congressional candidate saying they are more enthusiastic than usual as opposed to 59% of those intending to vote for the Republican candidate who say they are more enthusiastic than usual.  A far higher percentage of self-identified Democrats are enthusiastic going into this mid-term than the past two mid-terms. For self-identified Republicans, their level of enthusiasm is only slightly higher than the past 2 mid-terms.

The poll was conducted before last week’s Kavanaugh hearing, which in all likelihood will cause enthusiasm levels for adherents of both parties to go even higher.

Turnouts for mid-term elections are almost always significantly lower than presidential elections, making the relative level of voter enthusiasm which generally correlates to actual turn-out, particularly important.   In mid-terms, about 40% of eligible voters cast ballots, as compared to about 60% of eligible voters that cast ballot in presidential years.  And the drop off in voting in the mid-terms is not evenly distributed through the electorate.  Generally speaking, mid-term electorates have a higher percentage of older voters, white voters, and conservatives, giving Republicans an advantage.

This advantage in the composition of the mid-term electorate is amplified by the fact that Republicans have a built-in structural advantage. This is because Democrats are more geographically concentrated in cities and close in suburbs, and Republicans are more evenly distributed throughout the nation. As a result, Democrats usually need to be well ahead nationally, by about 5% points in the so-called generic ballot test-- a standard polling question that asks are you planning to vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress--in order to win back control of the House of Representatives.

The Democrats have a10 point advantage in the generic ballot test currently, according to Pew.  Additionally, mid-terms are usually in large measure a referendum on the incumbent president.  President Trump remains very unpopular, recording only a 40% approval rating.  But perhaps most important is the high level of Democratic voter enthusiasm.  Since a good portion of Democratic voters are not habitual mid-term voters, enthusiasm and intensity are essential.

As we head into the final month or so of the campaign, the political environment is highly favorable to Democrats taking back the House.   The Senate remains a different story. Given that most of the vulnerable incumbents up for election this year are Democrats, it is still uphill.

There is still plenty of time for things to change. But the record level of Democratic enthusiasm--an enthusiasm fueled by intense disapproval of President Trump--is surely a positive sign for those of us who would like to see a true check on his actions.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island

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