The widening turnout gap

As hard as pollsters try, it is almost impossible to glean a sample of actual likely voters in an off-year election. Particularly this year, it is difficult to distinguish between dutiful voters who say they are likely to vote and those who are actually going to make it to the polls. As in any off-year election, turnout matters.

According to the latest Gallup poll, Republicans only enjoy a 3 point lead in the generic party ballot among all registered voters. But among those most likely to vote, the edge expands to 18 points (56-38). Twice as many Republicans as Democrats report themselves to be “very enthusiastic” about voting in the survey.

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Remember that Obama got about the same percentage of white votes in 2008 as Kerry won in 2004. His victory was entirely due to a big increase in black turnout (from 11 percent of the vote in 2004 to 14 percent in 2008) and in his greater popularity among Latinos. Turnout elected Obama, and turnout will defeat his congressional majority

The Democrats are widening the enthusiasm gap against them by running exclusively negative campaigns against their insurgent Republican rivals. The vast proportion of Democratic and allied independent-expenditure media is negative, portraying Republican congressional candidates as tax evaders, spousal abusers, mob-linked, eccentric flakes, sexual molesters and absentee officeholders (all actual charges against key GOP candidates). While these ads may chip away at the Republican vote share in the polls, they do nothing to generate a Democratic turnout. 

The Democrats are without a theme, a message or a positive reason to go vote. Negative ads are supposed to depress turnout — the last thing Democrats need. But when they come up against Republican enthusiasm, they may not do much to check the GOP rise.

But advertising is not the central event of the 2010 elections. Mass rallies and one-on-one soliciting are the keys to the outcome. Between the Tea Party groups and Americans for Prosperity, there is a vast army of conservatives bringing the GOP message to the streets of America.

And the Republicans are just gearing up to turn out their voters. I have collaborated with Citizens United — whose Supreme Court case so roiled the Democrats — to produce an election-themed movie titled “Battle for America” (www.battleforamericamovie.com). With Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter and Fred Barnes, we describe how crucial are the stakes in this coming election. This film and others are spreading like wildfire through the ranks of the Tea Party groups and are being shown in tens of thousands of homes throughout the nation to the friends, families and neighbors of activists.

Republicans realize that our entire way of life and national idea is at stake in the 2010 elections. The radicalism of the Obama agenda and the mindless complicity of House and Senate Democrats who didn’t even read the bills they were passing have left a sense that America as we know it is on the line.

The regimented ranks of labor-union members enlisted by their leaders to turn out for Democratic candidates cannot compete with the fired-up intensity of the Republican grass roots. Democrats have gotten lazy and lethargic. The prolongation of the war in Afghanistan and the residual U.S. military presence in Iraq have sapped the left of its vitriol and undermined its faith in Obama. The new-left groups can’t gin up the enthusiasm they could in 2006 and 2008. It’s easier to attack than to defend.

When polls show Republicans even with their Democratic opponents, the GOP will win. Undecided voters generally go against the incumbents, and the vast difference in voter enthusiasm will tilt these races to the Republican challengers.

Prediction: The Republicans will win the Senate, capturing seats in Indiana, Arkansas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington state, Illinois and Nevada. And they could prevail in New York, Connecticut, Delaware and California to boot. 

The GOP will capture the House by a goodly margin, winning upward of 60-plus seats now held by Democrats. And it could go a lot higher!

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced, Catastrophe and 2010: Take Back America — 
A Battle Plan. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, Revolt!, go to dickmorris.com.