Don’t confuse infinite money with infinite votes. Don’t confuse narrative for truth. Don’t confuse anger with enthusiasm!
I’m sick of hearing about an “enthusiasm gap” between conservatives and liberals. The Tea Party has got more anger, money and time on their hands, period. But the “enthusiasm gap” is one of those memes that risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy unless someone stands up and screams “BULLSHIT!”
This is me screaming.
Here are some reasons why I don’t believe in it:
- Personal experience. I attended an Organizing for America meeting Tuesday night — one of those virtual town halls where we watched a live stream of President Obama taking softball questions from a friendly audience. But there were 15 of us crammed into one little living room. In my overwhelmingly Republican neighborhood.
- The cell phone gap. The polls undercounted Democratic votes two years ago because only families with landline phones were called. The cell-only families — and some estimate that’s 1-in-4 — are believed to be overwhelmingly liberal. And we don’t know what numbers they’ll turn out in.
- Centrist turn-off. The Citizens United firehose of conservative money from dodgy sources could backfire. Forget how many times you have to see a negative add for it to register. Forget how many times you have to see it before you believe it. We’re way past that point now in many races, or will be long before November 2. The question is, How many times do you have to see a negative ad before you’re sick of it and discount it entirely? That’s the unexplored territory where the right is heading. The sane people in the middle will, at some point, be so turned off by the negativity that they’ll throw up all over it.
- Unforced errors. You can’t count on people coming out in New York State to vote for Carl Paladino, then voting the rest of his row. I’m pretty sure the Wiccan vote in Delaware is fairly tiny as well. The “enthusiasm gaps” in California, Nevada and Arizona cut both ways because of the loopy comments made by GOP gubernatorial and senatorial candidates. That’s the charm, but also the curse, of untested outsiders as candidates.Republicans might be staying home in similar numbers to Democrats this year.
- Second thoughts. I can imagine a lot of people going to the polls with the intention of voting for the Tea Party candidate, then hesitating once the curtain is closed. They’ll realize they’ve been fueled by anger, not enthusiasm. They may agree with the limited-government or fiscal-conservatism tropes, but realize that the particular candidate for whom they were about to vote is just plain crazy. That’s not going to inspire anyone to vote for a Democratic incumbent, of course, but I expect a lot of third-party candidates will see double digits this year.
- Politics are local. Thirty nine seats is a lot to pick up in one election cycle. It can be done. It has been done. But Republican control of the House continues to be a stretch goal. I’m not saying categorically that the GOP won’t pull it off, but I wouldn’t bet that way. And bear in mind, there’s a paucity of information about House races. Not a lot of them receive the same kind of attention from reputable, non-partisan pollsters as the Senate contests do. Lower-chamber match-ups often make for Election Night surprises.
- Single-issue voters. The only Dems I know who are talking about the “enthusiasm gap” they perceive in themselves are affinity-group voters. Latinos are upset with Obama over the missteps toward immigration reform. Gays are upset with what they consider foot-dragging toward the goal or repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But are they really going to abandon someone whom they feel hasn’t done enough for them if the result is handing Washington over to people who are dead-set against their agendas? Eventually, they’ll get over their hurt feelings, realize that Obama and the congressional Dems have been busy with other pressing matters, and show up in support. After all, they’ll come to realize, it’s not just the Anglos’ wars. It’s not just the straight people’s economy.
- There’s still time. Not plenty of it, but I believe the Republicans peaked too soon. They don’t have ideas, just anger. Anger burns bright, but flames out. Can they really keep enough Americans pissed off for another 20 days? All the Dems have to do is run on — rather than away from — their record: saving the auto industry, protecting local public-sector jobs, keeping the banks from failing, beginning (in ugly fashion to be sure) to reform healthcare. We have to be relentless in talking sense, but we can still afford to be patient.
- Reagan did it. The right’s St. Ronnie was in a similar position in 1982. He also inherited an awful economy from his predecessor, Jimmy “Malaise” Carter. The vaunted Reagan economic expansion didn’t kick in right away and, in fact, his first mid-term was not favorable. The Republicans faced a potential rout that year. But they countered it with the message, “Stay the course!” It registered with the electorate. The Republicans did lose some House seats — 26 of them, net, but it could have been much worse. And they didn’t lose a single net Senate seat. Right now, that would look like unbridled success to the Democrats.
Anyway, if you agree that the “enthusiasm gap” is a media construct not based in reality, please follow this thread on my Twitter feed (WilliamFreedman) or join the Facebook page: “THERE IS NO ENTHUSIASM GAP! http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/There-is-No-Enthusiasm-Gap/167979219883656.
And vote November 2!