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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Robert Gibbs and the Midterm Election

Here’s the now famous Robert Gibbs' comment on Meet the Press last Sunday -- the one heard around the world:

"I think there's no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall. But I think there's no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There's no doubt about that.”

In an information-starved environment constantly looking for story lines, White House Press Secretary Gibbs' comment has provided much grist for the pundit/commentator/blogger mill over the last several days.

The gist of Gibbs' observation itself is nothing new (as he has been at pains to point out in his clean up efforts this week).

Everyone reading this post follows our Gallup generic ballot carefully, I'm sure, and knows that the data certainly support the hypothesis that the Republicans are in position to potentially gain control of the House this fall. See here and here.

A CNN news report this week on the Gibbs fallout is typical: “House Democrats still fuming over Gibbs comments” reads the headline. These reactions reflect the politics of Gibbs' statement rather than its reality. Democrats themselves aren't sure what's best for their party in terms of public discussion of the status of the race. Some Democrats interviewed in the CNN piece opined that Gibb's confession will “depress the party’s base.” Others disagreed, saying that it will “get Democrats all enthused.”

At the moment, regardless of anything else, there's little question that the Democratic base needs some enthusiasm, based on our Gallup data. Last week, 41% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that they were “very” enthusiastic about voting this November in the midterm elections. That compares to 26% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. This 15-point enthusiasm gap is about typical of what we have been finding this year, although the gap has spurted to as high as 25 points.

Overall, the generic ballot among registered voters remains close. Last week our generic ballot tracking found 47% supporting the Democratic candidate, 46% the Republican candidate. The week previously it was 44% Democrat 46% Republican, and prior to that it was 46% Democrat and 45% Republican. And so on. The only “spurts” in this close race scenario have been a couple of weeks in which the Republicans moved out and were significantly ahead.

The reason these data are not good news for Democrats (i.e. why being tied is bad) is the usual differential turnout in favor of Republicans. If our likely voter modeling in October confirms the turnout gap suggested by our enthusiasm data, then an even vote among registered voters would actually spell a margin in the GOP's favor among those who actually turn out and vote. Enough of a margin perhaps to predict enough seats gained by the Republicans to take over control of the House.

What could change this tide? The economy is the nation's most important problem according to Americans.  And right now consumer confidence is in the dumpster and getting worse, not better. But it's important to consider our Gallup Job Creation Index, which is showing fairly stable progress in positive territory. We are also not seeing a decrement in consumer spending. A best-case scenario for Democrats would include an increased awareness on the part of voters that the economy is getting better, stable-to-increased consumer spending, and positive progress on the Gulf oil spill.

Obama approval? Hovering just about at his all-time low (44%) today (Thursday, July 15).  Certainly if it falls further it's not good for Democrats. If it rises meteorically, on the other hand, it could signify more positive news for the Democrats going into the election.

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