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Poll Finds Big Democrat Enthusiasm Edge For 2018 - But Two Graphs Show Why It Doesn't Matter Yet


Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-C
Getty - Mandel Ngan
 IJR Opinion is an opinion platform and any opinions or information put forth by contributors are exclusive to them and do not represent the views of IJR.

Editor's Note: The author worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2014 cycle.

Public Policy Polling - a Democratic survey firm - is out with some new data on voter enthusiasm for the 2018 midterm elections that will certainly make the rounds in both parties.

Before we dive into the numbers, it's worth noting that PPP's polling last year was pretty...off. Their final polls had Clinton winning Pennsylvania by four-points, winning Wisconsin by nine-points, winning North Carolina by 2-points, and winning Michigan by five-points (she obviously lost all of these.)

That being said, here's what PPP found:

Democrats lead the generic Congressional ballot 47-41. But what's more notable is the enthusiasm imbalance. 63% of Democrats say they're 'very excited' about voting in the 2018 election, compared to only 52% of Republicans who express that sentiment.

According to PPP, Democrats lead the generic Congressional ballot, which asks party preference without specific candidates named, by six points. They also enjoy a significant, double-digit enthusiasm gap against Republicans.

As someone who has worked on House races before, these numbers aren't nothing. Both the generic ballot and the variance in enthusiasm are useful variables in determining how the election results will ultimately play out. If Republican staffers are looking at similar numbers in the fall of 2018, they'll likely start stocking up on Advil.

But that's the major caveat to all this data: It's just still way too early to draw a confident picture of what the 2018 electorate will look like. 

We're not even 100 days into President Trump's first term, yet both Democrats and the media are already trying to push a narrative that Republicans are depressed and will be doomed in an election that's still 565 days away. No one has any idea how events will play out or what issues will dominate the 2018 midterms.

The polling during the 2010 cycle, which ended up being a fantastic year for Republicans, offers one example. As the below graph from Real Clear Politics shows, Democrats held a significant advantage in the generic Congressional ballot for nearly all of 2009. In fact, Republicans didn't even break out into a huge lead until the summer of 2010, when the midterms blew into full swing.

Screenshot: Real Clear Politics

GOP voter enthusiasm rose and fell, sometimes sharply, during that period as well. But the major issue of 2010 - ObamaCare - wasn't even passed until March of that year.

2014, another good year for Republicans, played out similarly. The generic ballot results flipped between both parties for most of 2013 and 2014 before finally trending towards a Republican edge in the summer and early fall.

That major blue spike at the end of 2013 was sparked by the Republican-led government shutdown. Yet here's an ironic headline from Huffington Post based on a PPP poll from that same time period:

Republicans actually added seats to their House majority in 2014.

So what's the takeaway of all this? The numbers PPP found are not necessarily wrong. But keep in mind we're still in the wake of a stigmatizing election that many Democrats still have not accepted or processed yet. Maybe they never will. Maybe their enthusiasm edge will only grow. Or maybe President Trump's approval rating will increase, he'll rack up some major policy wins, and Republicans will be motivated to mobilize.

But in any case, it's futile to try to make any assumptions about what the electorate will look like more than 500 days out from the election. We just don't know what sort of political events will happen.