‘We’ve Got to Stop Fooling Ourselves’: Last Time Dem Enthusiasm Was This Low, They Got Blown Out

Amid mounting domestic and foreign policy issues and concerns, Democrats are facing a yawning enthusiasm gap with Republicans that, historically, had devasting consequences for the party during a previous midterm election cycle.

“At the end of October, Republicans held an 11-percentage-point advantage in voter enthusiasm. By January, that margin had ticked up to 14 points. Now, according to the most recent NBC News poll, it has swelled to 17 — a massive advantage that has foreshadowed devastating losses in Congress in prior years,” Politico reported on Thursday.

“The latest poll would be bad enough for Democrats. But it’s the trend line that is especially grim, seemingly impervious to a series of events — including President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address and the nomination of a judge to the Supreme Court — that Democrats had predicted might improve their candidates’ prospects in the fall,” the report continued.

What’s more, given the trend lines, it appears as if there isn’t much, if anything, that will work to the Democrats’ advantage ahead of this year’s November midterms. In fact, Politico notes, the last time the enthusiasm gap was this significant was in 2010, then-President Obama’s first midterm election; his party lost 60 seats in the House.

“Things could change,” said David Axelrod, previously an adviser to Obama, in an email. “But with only a quarter of the country believing things are headed in the right direction, the president sitting at a 40 or 42 [percent] approval and inflation at a 40-year high, the atmosphere clearly is not promising for Democrats to buck historical trends.”

Politico adds:

Even without the enthusiasm gap — a measure of voters’ level of interest in the midterm elections — Democrats would be limping toward November. They are saddled with Biden’s weak job approval numbers and have fallen behind Republicans on the generic ballot — two leading indicators of midterm performance.

But now they’re confronting a super-charged Republican electorate, too. In the NBC poll, about two-thirds of Republicans say they have a high level of interest in the midterm elections, compared to half of Democrats. The party’s current enthusiasm deficit is a reversal from 2018, when Democrats retook the House.

The NBC poll wasn’t a one-off. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll on Wednesday registered a double-digit spread between the share of Democrats and Republicans who are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting in the midterms and a smaller — but still measurable — gap when accounting for voters who say they are only “very” enthusiastic.

“We’ve got to stop fooling ourselves here,” Julie Roginsky, a former top adviser to New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who won reelection last fall by a very small margin, told Politico.

“It would be a challenging environment, anyway, because the midterm election of an incumbent president whose party controls both houses always is. Layer on top of that concerns about inflation, concerns about the economy generally and concerns about what’s going on in foreign policy right now, and it becomes problematic,” she added.