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If it Doesn't Close, "Enthusiasm Gap" Will Ruin Democrats' Chances to Hold Congress

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This post originally appeared at the Washington Monthly.

Looking at  the recent trend on the congressional generic ballot, it's tempting to think Republicans "peaked" in August and the landscape is getting more competitive. For Democrats looking for a morale boost with just 39 days until the midterms, this is a good reason not to give into despair.

But I feel like the enthusiasm gap continues to be the one factor in this campaign that's likely to make all the difference -- if it doesn't close, Dems may very well lose everything; if it does close, the political world is in for a big surprise.

The new Associated Press-GfK Poll, for example, reinforces what we've seen from other recent surveys -- Democrats are unpopular; Republicans are  more unpopular. (In 1994, this wasn't the case.) What's more, Americans "overwhelmingly fault Bush more than Obama for the recession."

But then  there's that enthusiasm gap.

Reflecting that discontent, 54 percent who strongly dislike Democrats in the AP-GfK Poll express intense interest in the election, compared with just 40 percent of those with very negative views of Republicans. Extreme interest in the campaign is expressed by nearly 6 in 10 saying their vote in November will signal their opposition to Obama. Only about 4 in 10 say they want to show support for the president with their vote.

Overall, 49 percent of those supporting their Republican congressional candidate are very interested in the election, compared with 39 percent of those backing the Democrat in their local race.

Similarly, the Pew Research Center released  its latest report yesterday, and the results make this point even more clearly.

When registered voters are asked which party's candidates they're more likely to support, Democrats actually lead by three, 47% to 44%, Among likely voters, there's a 10-point swing in the other direction, with Republicans up by seven, 50% to 43%.

President Obama's  remarks at a party fundraiser on Wednesday night ring true: "The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference. It's people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands."