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Political Notebook: New Polls Show Republican Edge in Enthusiasm

October 21, 2010 at 6:01 PM EDT
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Political Editor David Chalian speaks with Margaret Warner about a new set of polls showing Republicans leading among likely voters and the midterm campaigning focusing more on President Obama's job performance.
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MARGARET WARNER: Now we take a look at the broader pre-election trends and countertrends nationwide. Our political editor, David Chalian, joins us with his Political Notebook. So, where’s your notebook?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID CHALIAN: I didn’t bring an actual notebook. It’s…

MARGARET WARNER: All right. There have been a number of polls out this week. The Wall Street Journal was one. Pew is another. And there seems to be a headline out of it, which is, despite all the furious campaigning we’re seeing out there by the president and all the ads the Democrats have been putting out, that, really, the Republicans retain their edge among likely voters.

DAVID CHALIAN: Which is the key to any election, right? You want to screen the folks that are actually going to get to the polls. And this is where that term enthusiasm gap that we have heard so much about this cycle exists.

Take a look at these Pew Research Survey polls out today. If you take a look among registered voters, Margaret, the Republicans edge the Democrats 46 percent to 42 percent, but that’s a pretty close race. When you screen for those likely voters, the folks that say they’re definitely showing up on the polls on Nov. 2, that goes to a 10-point spread, 50 percent to 40 percent, a Republican advantage there.

So, you’re right. We see the president sort of barnstorming the country right now all focused on trying to motivate that Democratic base. And we’re not seeing that in the polls.

MARGARET WARNER: The — another interesting thing, I thought, in the Journal poll is that the president himself has — it’s become more about him, this election.

DAVID CHALIAN: Every president likes to say, especially when things are not going in their party’s direction, that this election is really going to be a choice between two candidates on the ballot, not a referendum.

I cannot think of a midterm election that is not a referendum on the president, on the party in power. That’s what they are. That’s what midterm elections are, by nature. And if you take a look at that Journal poll, 69 percent of Americans right now say their vote is going to be a signal either in opposition to or in support of Barack Obama, but that his — sort of grading his performance is part of why they’re voting.

Only 56 percent said that in August. So, while he’s out there, he is — although he likes to say it’s a choice, his presence on the campaign trail, just by its nature, elevates that referendum side, that this really is a chance for the American people to give Barack Obama a midterm grade.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the Democrats say they’re still counting on their ground game, their vaunted ground game, to get out there and get those still maybe unenthused voters in their base to the polls, to get out and vote. How’s that going?

DAVID CHALIAN: I thought this was one of the most interesting statistics we saw in the polling numbers today. In the Pew poll, that Pew Research Center survey, they did about — phone calls that voters receive at home. You’re talking about the ground game.

Here’s one way to look at it. Voter contact by phone, 67 percent of Republicans said they have received a campaign phone call, only 54 percent of Democrats. Four years ago, when Democrats were riding a wave and eventually overtook control of Congress, 45 percent of Democrats had gotten a phone call at this point in the campaign, only 37 percent of Republicans.

So, you see, this is the reality of that enthusiasm gap. This is what it means. It means that there are more people willing to go out and volunteer and pick up the phone and call on the Republican side. Right now, they’re willing to do anything to get their vote recorded and to be active in this election.

MARGARET WARNER: So it’s not just a matter of having paid phone banks? It really measures enthusiasm…

DAVID CHALIAN: Without a doubt.

MARGARET WARNER: … which then is a sort of vicious or virtuous circle?

DAVID CHALIAN: Exactly.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

DAVID CHALIAN: It feeds on itself in that way. You get more and more volunteers out there making the phone calls, and, obviously, you can help your poll numbers out.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, let’s look at how all this is playing out in the Senate races. You have chosen 18 that you consider contested Senate races, 13 of which the Democrats currently hold and five Republicans.

DAVID CHALIAN: Right, which shows you how much turf they’re defending, the Democrats.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

DAVID CHALIAN: These are the 18 most competitive races across the country right now.

And if you take a look here, you said 13 of them are currently held by Democrats, but we have nine of these 18, half of them, I have already put into the leaning or likely Republican column, including such Democratic states like Wisconsin, North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas.

I have four Democratic-leaning states there, California, Washington, Connecticut, and Delaware. And those yellow states, Margaret on that map, those are the key contests. You should watch them from now through Nov. 2. They are the real toss-ups: Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia, Pennsylvania.

But here’s the thing. Some — two of those blue states, Washington and California — you just heard them talking about California — they’re tightening up a little bit. They may make their way into the tossup category before election, and the same thing with that red state of Kentucky, that Rand Paul-Jack Conway race. That may inch into the toss-up race.

These races on both sides are really getting quite tight in the Senate, and we may even have more toss-up races come election night.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, very briefly, the House races, the — the — Bill McInturff and Peter Hart, who do this poll, do their poll, said — Peter Hart said he thought it was going to be a Category 4 hurricane for the Democrats. McInturff was saying 52- or 53-seat pickup for the Republicans.

If the election were held today, where do you think it is?

DAVID CHALIAN: If the election were held today, I would say that the Republicans certainly have enough to get over that hump of 39. They need 39 seats picked up in their favor to become the majority party. We will see how these last 10 days play out. But…

MARGARET WARNER: So, you’re — you’re not even going to say…

DAVID CHALIAN: I can’t — I don’t know what the number will be, but I do think that, when you see that likely voter number, and you see that 10-point spread in favor of the Republicans, that tells you there is a big wave coming the Democrats’ way. And, right now, I think that it puts the House in jeopardy for them.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, David, thank you.

DAVID CHALIAN: Sure.