I really don't take much stock in Gallup's "generic ballot" polls, not least over the summer (when people aren't paying attention to the news (not that they really do at other times either, but it's worse over the summer), but I can't help but be a little worried by the latest numbers showing Republicans with a 10-point lead, 51 to 41:
There's no discernible trend here. It's been up-and-down all year, with Democrats occasionally taking the lead, and the real concern would be if the gap fails to narrow again and, once the election season begins in earnest after Labor Day, Republicans maintain or expand upon what is a fairly solid lead at present.
So should the results of this latest weekly tracking poll "send a chill down the Democrats' spine," as Taylor Marsh suggests? Well, yes, but not because they're behind, but because what matters here is enthusiasm -- and what this poll shows quite clearly is that Republicans have an enormous lead over both Democrats and independents when it comes to enthusiasm:
I understand why Democrats' enthusiasm is low. Obama has been fairly successful thus far (health care, the stimulus, Wall Street reform, etc.), but he hasn't exactly governed up the lofty expectations of many, and the Democrats in Congress haven't exactly done everything they could have done with two solid majorities and, as usual, aren't exactly a unified force against the Republicans, succumbing to their typical internal conflicts and disagreements -- though, of course, the filibuster has effectively allowed Republicans, who are unified, who have determined to be not a loyal opposition but a party of obstructionism, and who wield what power they have (including the filibuster, which they abuse in terms of historical usage) with a vengeance, to block a good deal of what Obama and the Democrats have wanted to do. (And, too, the media, which regurgitate Republican narratives and talking points without much thought of their own, tend to overblow the situation, leaving Democratic voters with the impression that their party is deeply divided, dysfunctional, and doomed, sapping a good deal of whatever enthusiasm they might have.)
And this is what happens to parties that are in power, even if Democrats have only been in power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue since January '09, hardly much time.
Still, there's really no excuse for the enormity of this enthusiasm gap. I expect Republicans to be ahead, what with the surge of the Tea Party "movement" and all the Republican propaganda that has been unleashed upon the country, much of it based on fear, hatred, and loathing, much of it racist/nativist and directed at the Other, including a certain partially black man in the White House (as well as at Mexicans and anyone who doesn't fit in with the right's fringe ideology), but the increasing extremism of the Republican Party and the conservatives who support it should be generating enthusiasm among Democrats, not depressing it. Sure, Obama has been a bit of a disappointment in some regards, and Democrats in Congress have been somewhat pathetic, but do we really want the party of Sarah Palin to take over? Do Democrats really not get it? Are they so bitter or so stubborn or so stupid that they'd rather let the Republicans win than go to the polls and vote for what is, at worst, the significantly less bad of the two options?
I expect the enthusiasm gap to narrow and for Democrat to lose fewer seats in November than some expect (and as some polls predict). Ultimately, Democrats will do what they have to do, and right now Republicans, driven on by that fear, hatred, and loathing, may very well be maxing out on enthusiasm, with the base deeply enthusiastic even over the summer. History tells us that the party in power will lose seats in the first midterms, and, less than two years into Obama's presidency, we shouldn't expect an exception.
But Republicans are running as a far-right party, with teabaggers triumphant across the land, and this will only come back to bite them as they lose independents and whatever sensible Republicans are left -- assuming, of course, that Democrats don't wither away into electoral oblivion for lack of effort.
There's still a long time to go, in electoral terms, before November, but it's time for Democrats to start giving a shit.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)
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