After Democratic enthusiasm has been through the roof for two years since Trump’s election, leaving a trail of dozens of red-to-blue seat flips in the states, the Washington media is now telling us that Democratic surge has all been wiped away by the battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. Specifically, one NPR headline asserted the “Democratic Enthusiasm Edge Evaporates” after its most recent poll found Democratic and Republican voters roughly split among those who said the midterms were “very important” (Ds 82 percent/Rs 80 percent).
Okay, time to take a breath. Nate Silver did a good job adding some context to the most recent polls and here was his basic conclusion (my paraphrase): Republicans’ chances of keeping the House is getting slightly worse, while their chances of holding the Senate are slightly better. Here’s how Silver put it:
District-level polls have generally been getting worse for Republicans, even if national indicators have stabilized or improved slightly. […]
Republicans have been favored to keep the Senate all along. But their position has improved quite a bit over the last week in all three versions of our model.
Indeed, Cook Political Report just moved seven more House races in the direction of Democrats.
When it comes to enthusiasm, there’s plenty of caveats to the notion that the Democratic advantage has evaporated. First, turnout is still what actually matters. Republicans have completely abandoned the cross-over vote in favor of stoking their base and nothing else. That strategy not only depends on turnout among their base being high, it also assumes turnout among the Democratic base will be low. Here’s how the director of polling for Marist Institute, which conducted the NPR poll, framed it.
“The Republicans’ approach has been, and continues to be, all about the base,” [Lee] Miringoff said. “This is their M.O., and that’s what we’re seeing. That works if turnout is not high.”
In other words, Republicans are counting on typical midterm trends to hold, with overall turnout being very low which tends to favor Republicans. Nothing about the trajectory of turnout over the past couple years of special elections suggests a sudden drop-off from the historic highs we’ve seen.
Second, all of these polls were done in the immediate wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, an obvious point of engagement for both parties. Republican engagement, increasing in the NPR poll from 68 percent in the sleepy month of July to 80 percent following the hearings, is significant but not necessarily telling. It’s a snapshot of a moment in time where the GOP base finally showed some signs of life that the Democratic base has been exhibiting all along.
Even GOP strategist Alex Conant noted that the momentary “unifying moment” for Republicans isn’t necessarily durable.
“Now the election, at least at the moment, is about Brett Kavanaugh who’s been dominating the national conversation,” Conant told NPR. Conant added that Trump taking a back seat to Kavanaugh was actually helping Republicans. Now does anyone really believe Trump is going to continue taking a backseat to Kavanaugh over the next month?
The other data point that’s always worth keeping in mind is the fact that GOP party ID has shrunk significantly within the last couple years. Here’s what Pew Research Center wrote in March:
When the partisan leanings of independents are taken into account, 50% either identify as Democrats or lean Democratic; 42% identify as Republicans or lean Republican.
The 8-percentage-point Democratic advantage in leaned partisan identification is wider than at any point since 2009, and a statistically significant shift since 2016, when Democrats had a 4-point edge (48% to 44%).
Additionally, while a little over half of women (51-52 percent) identified/leaned Democratic from 2010 through 2015, by 2017, fully 56 percent favored Democrats, while the partisan leanings of men remained virtually unchanged during the same time period.
Remember that NPR poll about enthusiasm up top, it also found following the hearing that 45 percent of voters believe Dr. Blasey Ford is telling the truth vs. just 33 percent who believe Kavanaugh’s denials. The gender gap is large, with women believing Blasey Ford 52-27 percent and men believing Kavanaugh by a narrow margin, 39-37 percent.
If Republicans manage to ram Kavanaugh’s nomination through as they seem poised to do—despite the fact that he’s a credibly accused sexual assaulter and provable serial liar—that growing contingent of Democratic women will be counting down the days till they can get to the polls to register their seething rage.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.