‘Un-Enthusiasm Gap’: At Least 5% of Voters Disapprove of, But Plan to Vote for, Republicans – Means GOP May Get Majority But No Mandate

Earlier I posted a recap of FiveThirtyEight.com pollster Nate Silver’s scenario in which, despite all the dire predictions, Democrats could hold onto enough seats today to retain control of Congress.

If, say, 40 million people vote today, at least 2 million and 3.2 million of them will be voting for candidates from a party they don’t like.

Although Silver did not address it, there is another statistical anomaly out there that has remained consistent in the polling recently: an “un-enthusiasm gap” among people who say they hold a lower opinion of Republicans than Democrats but plan to vote for Republican candidates nonetheless.

Poll after poll has shown that Republicans are the least popular political entity out there.

In early September, polls found favorability ratings for Republicans in the low 20s and Democrats in the mid-30s — while concurrent generic ballot results showed GOP candidates up by five to 10 points or more. What this meant was that as many as 10 to 15 percent of voters back then were saying that they planned to vote for candidates representing a party they did not like.


Two recent polls found that the favorability ratings of both parties have risen as Election Day approached. But even as approval ratings have improved, favorability of Republicans still lags slightly. The New York Times/CBS poll out last Wednesday put the favorability ratings at 41 percent for Republicans and 46 percent for Democrats, while 46 percent said they would vote for GOP candidates and 40 percent for Dems.

The CNN poll released Sunday found the GOP’s favorability rating at 44 percent, Dems’ at 46 percent; while 52 percent said they would vote for the GOP and 42 percent for the Dems.

So 5 percent of voters in the NYT poll and 8 percent in the CNN poll say they plan to vote for a party they don’t like. If, say, 40 million people vote today, that could mean that between 2 million and 3.2 million of them will be voting for candidates they are lukewarm about, at least.

If nothing else, this anomaly suggests that any little thing — bad weather, a hangnail, a sense that Republicans are going to win anyway so their own vote is unnecessary — could keep less than enthusiastic Republican voters at home today, which would definitely help Democrats in those districts.

That said, if the polls are right — and they probably are — the impact of this un-enthusiasm gap on the election today is likely to be negligible. However, the fact that the GOP won with such lackluster backing could come back to haunt them if they win one or both houses. It is freakishly unusual for voters to give a party a majority without also giving them a mandate.

So even if Republicans win control of the House and Senate today, their honeymoon with voters is likely to be the shortest on record. These unenthusiastic voters are the same people who are gave the Democrats just two years to resolve the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It’s unlikely they’ll give the new majority party more than six months to turn the economy around, bring down the deficit and reduce the jobless rate to 5 percent. If so, things could turn real ugly for this retread of the old Bush-era GOP come next June.

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