The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yes, Republicans have an enthusiasm advantage this fall. What if that’s not enough?

Republicans are more excited to vote than Democrats to vote this fall. Every poll worth anything shows this enthusiasm advantage and every Republican strategist you talk to reminds you that their people are really, really fired up. That might not be enough to guarantee success on Nov. 4, argues prominent Republican pollster Neil Newhouse .

"The straight-forward conclusion is that this enthusiasm gap will play out at the voting booths in November, resulting in widespread GOP gains, led by a takeover of the U.S. Senate," writes Newhouse in a blog post on the Public Opinion Strategies' website. "But, what if the enthusiasm gap is meaningless?"

As evidence of the potentially meaninglessness of having voters that are more fired up and ready to go than the other side, Newhouse points to polling data from the run-up to the 2012 election. Here's his chart:

"The enthusiasm gap was taken to the woodshed by the Obama team’s [get out the vote] efforts," writes Newhouse. "In a nutshell, the Democrats turned out voters who were 'unenthusiastic,' 'unexcited' and not 'energized' to vote, rendering the 'enthusiasm gap' meaningless."

His point is simple: Enthusiasm is great. But enthusiasm without a get out the vote operation to bottle that passion into actual votes isn't decisive. It's Newhouse's way of warning his party that there are still 85 days left before the election and that no one ever won in the middle of August. It's a guard against complacency.

And, Newhouse is right that enthusiasm isn't everything. But, it's worth noting that comparing how the enthusiasm gap played out in a presidential election and using it to draw conclusions about how it might play out in a midterm election might not tell the whole story. A presidential electorate is far larger than a midterm electorate.  Many more casual voters get interested in it than get interested in a midterm.

Think of it this way: A presidential election is like the SuperBowl -- everybody tunes in even if they don't care all that much about the two sides; it's a cultural happening. A midterm election is like a Week 9 game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders. If you are a fan of either of those teams, you'll watch -- maybe. If you're not, there's NO chance you are tuning in.

Midterm elections are all about turning out the biggest fans of the two parties (i.e., the bases). And, if one side is much more excited than the other side to turn out before the two parties, it's an advantage. And it's a far bigger advantage in a midterm election than a presidential election.

Put simply: Enthusiasm alone won't win Republicans the Senate this fall. (Democrats are doing everything they can to run localized races with sophisticated -- and tailored -- turnout operations.) But, you'd still much rather be the party with the enthusiasm edge.