The "enthusiasm gap" is driving the midterm election narrative. You hear, everywhere from every MSM and polling source, that the generic ballot shows a 5-10 point lead for the GOP. That lead is constructed entirely on the "likely voter" model. Among likely voters, you hear, the GOP has a 5-10 point lead. Have you ever heard the results of polls of registered voters not qualified by the "likely" modifier?
In the latest CNN public opinion poll released 10/08, someone slipped up and mentioned that, among registered voters, the generic Democrats have a 6 point lead. A 6 point lead is about what it took to sweep Congress and the White House for the Democrats in 2006-08. So the sentiment of the country favors Democrats by 6 percent and the press reports only the pollster construct of right leaning likely voters as representing the sentiment of the nation.
What is a likely voter? Different polls have different methods and most are proprietary. Gallup has shared their battery of questions used to determine a likely voter. From Mystery Pollster :
1) How much have you thought about the upcoming elections for president, quite a lot or only a little? (Quite a lot = 1 point)
2) Do you happen to know where people who live in your neighborhood go to vote? (Yes = 1 point)
3) Have you ever voted in your precinct or election district? (Yes = 1 point)
4) How often would you say you vote, always, nearly always, part of the time or seldom (Always or nearly always = 1 point)
5) Do you plan to vote in the presidential election this November? (Yes = 1 point) [presumably updated for 2012]
6) In the last presidential election, did you vote for Al Gore or George Bush, or did things come up to keep you from voting?" (Voted = 1 point) [presumably updated for 2010-12]
7) If "1" represents someone who will definitely not vote and "10" represents someone who definitely will vote, where on this scale would you place yourself? (Currently 7-10 = 1, according to this "quiz" on USA Today)
It's easy to see that the questions used to determine a likely voter skew in favor of older people and those with long term political involvement. Note that only one question, number 7, directly asks if you plan to vote and voting history is the most weighted measure by far. What is apparent in the battery is that complacency is judged an immutable pattern of the U.S. voter, 2006-08 notwithstanding for some reason.
Fair reporting on the subject of this current election would be that the press has decided that the same American public that voted out the GOP in 2006-08 is intent on putting them back in office in 2010. Despite the tribulations of the first two years of Obama, Americans seem still in favor of Democratic rule, but their "enthusiasm" is measured by only two of the Gallup battery questions, numbers 1 and 7. Question 1 can be interpreted as having not had to think about the election too hard in order to make a choice. Question 7 could turn on the notion that if things appear to be in hand, then I won't bother. Rather gaping holes in both questions for the polls and press to rely entirely on them as a litmus of political fact. Rather thin criterion for the claim that America is a center right nation, these two questions, but that is what the MSM has made of it in practical terms.
News organizations are depriving the public of a vital piece of information that is significant. That piece of information is that the public actually supports the Democrats more than it does the Republicans, just maybe not enough to bother with voting. Only reporting the horse race aspect of the election, which party's voters are most likely to show up by historical statistical standards, serves to skew the perception that America is leaning right when it's not. Issue polls bear this out, America is the most left on issues that it has been since the sixties. What comparing the likely voter and registered voter numbers show is a GOP willing to use big money enabled anger to impose its will on a public that, in majority, doesn't want it to.
Because of this distortion in reporting poll outcomes, some on the left will stay home or vote a third party because they think the Republicans will win anyway. The tragedy of this is that the "unenthused" left majority will suffer the all too predictable pains of a GOP Congress legislating against their interests and wishes. The public wishes government to be left of center and not right, according to the polls.
Democrat are by avocation democratic, so if the majority is leaning politically right they are more likely to accept a right wing future than Republicans are to accept a politically left leaning future. The right is just always more enthused about forcing everyone to live according to their rules than is the left. But then, actual enthusiasm is not a central component of the likely voter calculation, history is.
Pollsters always push the "likely voter" qualification because it is intuitively the more exact predictor. It is an exact predictor until "enthusiasm" swings, right up to and including the day of the election. It is the old "if the vote were held today" codicil to predictions that allows them to predict in polling at all. But the pitfall of that is a misrepresentation of the political landscape that the press and polls undertake at the risk of being proved wrong, like the market crash of 2008 propelled Obama to a 6 point lead and win out of a virtual tie. Happily for the press and pollsters, the public has the long term memory of a mayfly (lifespan one day).
Conspiracy theorists might jump to the conclusion that the conservative owned press is willfully misrepresenting the public temperament. More likely is that the American press has just become too lazy and arrogant to care whether what they are fed by pollsters who should know what is happening in fact do not know what is happening, or even whether they are being fed propaganda crap by them. The drumbeat of the Democrats being beat like a drum is everywhere that Fox News can feed a tag line. The somnambulism of the left, having won something but not so much that it appears to have upset business as usual, is innervated further by dire predictions of losing even what has been accomplished. Time for the left to surrender, according to Fox.
Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN and Republicans, listen up and listen tight, surrender is not a word any American takes lightly.