Charlie Cook: Republicans face an “intensity gap”

The usual partisan intensity pattern &#8212 Democrats do best among adults, less well among registered voters, and even less well than that among likely voters&#8212 has reversed. The Democrats’ edge among “very likely” voters on the generic Congressional ballot is now up to 18%
Charlie Cook’s bottom line:
“There is no reason not to expect that the political environment will be as hostile to Republicans this fall as it was to Democrats in 1994, when a rout cost them control of both chambers of Congress.”

Charlie Cook’s latest column is sure to bring smiles to Democratic faces.

The usual partisan intensity pattern &#8212 Democrats do best among adults, less well among registered voters, and even less well than that among likely voters&#8212 has reversed. The Democrats’ edge among “very likely” voters on the generic Congressional ballot is now up to the high teens. Cook is talking about a 1994-level rout, but for the good guys this time.

There is growing evidence that Republicans will face a voter turnout problem in the November midterm elections.

[snip]

A new Cook Political Report/RT Strategies national survey of 1,003 adults, conducted Thursday through Sunday, showed 36 percent approving of the job Bush is doing and 59 percent disapproving. The results were virtually the same among registered voters. The poll has a 3.1-point error margin.

Studies show that voters in Bush-friendly red states drive significantly more miles each month than those in blue states, and it’s a pretty logical assumption that gasoline usage is much greater in the predominately suburban, rural and small town congressional districts most often represented by Republicans, than in more compact, urban districts usually held by Democrats. That means the longer gasoline prices remain high, the worse it will be for GOP candidates.

It is clear that these issues have taken a toll. RT Strategies, headed by Thom Riehle, a veteran Democratic pollster, and Lance Tarrance, one of the pioneering pollsters on the Republican side, found that when respondents were asked which party they would like to see in control of Congress after these elections, Democrats had an advantage of 11 points among all adults, 48-37 percent, 12 points among registered voters, 49-37 percent, and 17 points among the most likely voters, 53-36 percent.

In the other variation of what has come to be known as the generic congressional ballot test, when people were asked whether they planned on voting for the Democratic candidate for Congress or the Republican, Democrats led by 12 points among adults, 44-32 percent; by 13 points among registered voters, 45-32 percent; and by a whopping 18 points among those most likely to vote, 50-32 percent.

Simply put, there are a lot of Republicans who are showing little interest in this election, which matches a downward trend that has been seen in party identification over the last two years. The two parties are no longer evenly matched.

“Most likely voters” were those who, when asked on a scale of one (low) to 10 (high) how interested they were in the November midterm elections, selected nine or 10. Among all registered voters, 50 percent described their level of interest as 10, but there was a huge discrepancy between the parties, with 54 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Republicans choosing the highest number. Among independents, 47 percent chose 10. This double-digit intensity disparity between the two parties was also found in the March and April NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls.

Counting those who rated their interest as nine or 10 in our poll, 60 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans qualified as very likely voters; those levels are generally more reflective of a presidential race rather than turnout for a midterm election. If someone was looking for the best possible warning sign of a voter turnout problem for Republicans, the level of interest would be it. These numbers amount to a sharp departure from the last two elections, when Republican voters were more motivated than Democrats, and, in fact, turned out in higher numbers.

On his website, cookpolitical.com, Cook adds:

The overall downward trend is clear enough to make any Republican candidate or consultant reach for an air-sickness bag. Simply put, there is no reason not to expect that the political environment will be as hostile to Republicans this fall as it was to Democrats in 1994, when a rout cost them control of both chambers of Congress.

The bad news is that this makes war with Iran more likely.

Footnote Cook sends out his weekly column free; you can sign up here.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Charlie Cook: Republicans face an “intensity gap””

  1. All well and good, but is there a time of year when these polls mean less than they do now? It's 6 months to election day, and a lot can happen – to gasoline prices, in particular – in that span of time. If the price of oil decreases significantly before November, look for the inevitable Republican rebound and another two years of one-party rule.
    A "voter turnout problem" in the month of May is not something worth worrying about.
    The poll itself is particularly meaningless. Don't Democrats always do well in the generic "which party would you vote for" question? When it comes to crunch time, and voters are faced with real names on real ballots, the numbers are likely to change significantly.

  2. It's just amazing to me that in 12 short years the Republicans have acquired all of the most unattractive characteristics of a long-held legislative majority that it took the Democrats 40 years to perfect. Maybe things really are speeded up these days. If the Dems take over in '06, maybe by '12 they'll be as corrupt and complacent as the Repubs are now and as the Dems were in '92.

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