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The enthusiasm gap (and seven races where it matters)

By Felicia Sonmez

An imbalance in voter enthusiasm between the parties is aiding Republican chances in at least seven key statewide races this fall, a Fix analysis of Reuters/Ipsos polling data reveals.

Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Kentucky are among the states where polls show the so-called "enthusiasm gap" playing a pivotal role, according to the Reuters/Ipsos data. (A full rundown of the poll data is available after the jump.)

Among the trends in the Reuters polling:

  • In six races -- the Pennsylvania, Colorado, Kentucky and Ohio Senate races and the Nevada and Ohio gubernatorial races -- recent polling shows the Democratic candidate and the Republican candidate in a statistical tie among registered voters. But when only likely voters are surveyed, the Republican candidate's lead moves beyond the margin of error -- in some cases, increasing by as much as ten percentage points.
  • In one race, the Nevada Senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leads his former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) by 16 points among registered voters. When only likely voters are sampled, that lead narrows to only four points.
  • Overall, the enthusiasm gap is greatest in the Nevada Senate and gubernatorial races, where the margin between candidates changes by as much as 12 points when the sample changes from registered to likely voters. Other races where the gap is significant include the Pennsylvania Senate race (seven points) and the Ohio gubernatorial race (six points). The gap is narrowest in the Ohio Senate race (three points).

When those state-by-state figures are overlayed with national data, the enthusiasm gap is hard to miss.

A Gallup poll earlier this week revealed that nationally, 50 percent of Republicans are "very enthusiastic" about voting this year compared with 25 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of independents.

Wrote Gallup's Frank Newport of the data:

"Republicans usually turn out in higher numbers in midterm elections than do Democrats, and Gallup's likely voter modeling in the final weeks of an election typically reflects a larger GOP advantage than is evident among registered voters. The wide enthusiasm gaps in the GOP's favor so far this year certainly suggest that this scenario may well play itself out again this November."

The simple fact is that midterm elections are, traditionally, lower turnout affairs than presidential election years. And, that lower turnout means that the bases of the two parties -- the people who vote no matter what -- matter more.

Energized Republicans and disaffected Democrats, which state and national polling currently suggests is the governing dynamic at the moment, opens the door for significant GOP gains.

Here's a look at the Reuters/Ipsos data in each of the seven races:

Nevada Senate: Reid leads Angle 52 percent to 36 percent among registered voters in the most recent poll. Among likely voters, the two are in a statistical tie, with Reid at 48 percent and Angle at 44 percent.

Nevada governor: Former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval (R) is tied with Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid (D) 43 percent to 42 percent among registered voters. Among likely voters, Sandoval leads Reid 50 percent to 39 percent.

Ohio governor: Among registered voters, former Rep. John Kasich (R) is tied with Gov. Ted Strickland (D) 45 percent to 42 percent. Among likely voters, Kasich leads 48 percent to 39 percent.

Pennsylvania Senate: Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) is tied with Rep. Joe Sestak (D) 40 percent to 37 percent among registered voters in the latest poll. When likely voters are surveyed, Toomey's lead increases to 47 percent to Sestak's 37 percent.

Colorado Senate: When registered voters are surveyed, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) leads Sen. Michael Bennet (D) 44 percent to 40 percent, within the poll's four-point margin of error. Among likely voters, Buck leads Bennet 49 percent to 40 percent.

Kentucky Senate: Ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) and state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) are tied 40 percent apiece among registered voters. When likely voters are surveyed, Paul leads Conway 45 percent to 40 percent.

Ohio Senate: Former Rep. Rob Portman (R) and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) are in a statistical tie, 41 percent to 37 percent, among registered voters. Portman's lead increases to 43 percent over Fisher's 36 percent among likely voters.

By Felicia Sonmez  | September 2, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  Governors, Senate  
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