Republicans Close Enthusiasm Gap Amid Kavanaugh FIght

Republican enthusiasm is up, but so is opposition to Kavanaugh.

Much of the election news for the midterms up to this point has been bad for Republicans, but now there is a bright spot for the GOP. A new poll shows that the Democratic advantage in voter enthusiasm has all but disappeared.

The poll, conducted by Marist for NPR and PBS, shows that a 10-point advantage in July for Democrats rating the election as “very important” has been largely negated. The new poll shows Democrats with only a two-point advantage, which is statistically a tie.

The poll results do not show that Democrat enthusiasm is wavering. Rather, they indicate that Republican enthusiasm is catching up. In July, 78 percent of Democrats said that the election was “very important” compared to only 68 percent of Republicans. In the most recent poll, 82 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans consider the election “very important.”

The poll also indicates that the Democrat advantage in which party candidate voters support has been eroded. The 12-point Democrat advantage in July was down to 6 points in the current poll. Forty-eight percent prefer Democrats to 42 percent for Republicans.

The polling suggests that the confirmation fight over Brett Kavanaugh has awakened some parts of the Republican base that were unexcited about the performance of the GOP under President Trump. The attacks on Kavanaugh have stoked widespread anger and indignation among Republicans.

“The result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened," noted Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, told NPR.

“If there aren't 34 dramatic moments [between now and the election], it will be 'my base versus your base,' " Miringoff said. "The Republicans' approach has been and continues to be, all about the base. This is their M.O., and that's what we're seeing. That works if turnout is not high.”

The Republican strategy to push forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation is an attempt to fire up the party’s base, but the strategy is not without risks. One of these risks is shown in the response to the question of whether a voter is more likely to support a candidate who votes for or against Kavanaugh. By a nine-point margin, voters prefer candidates who oppose Kavanaugh. The opposition to Kavanaugh has increased from a two-point statistical tie in July. Among independents, 22 percent favor candidates who back Kavanaugh while 40 percent like candidates who oppose him.

The new poll shows the beginning of what may be a surge in Republican enthusiasm for the elections. The downside for the GOP is that Kavanaugh, like Trump, is not popular outside the Republican Party. The Marist poll puts Kavanaugh’s approval at 36 percent with 47 percent disapproving. Confirming Judge Kavanaugh over the objection of a plurality of the country could excite the Republican base, but may also prod independent voters to go blue.

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What seems to be missing is the same thing that many people missed when it comes to Trump. Even though they may not like him, they still supported him because the other option was so much worse. Democrats don't realize that they can dislike a person or candidate and still make a strategic choice. Therefore, you will get more Republicans and independents that don't approve of Trump or Kavanaugh, but still vote for them or support confirmation anyway.

The approve/disapprove question is taken in a vacuum. For instance, I could tell someone that they have cancer. They can get chemo and live or they can die. Most people are going to chose the chemo. It doesn't mean that it is good and that you like it, but it is simply the best of two bad options. Many people approach elections in the same way.