Why (almost) no one cares about this election

Polls show interest in the midterm election is the lowest in more than a decade. Image by Paul Bradbury and Getty Images

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Just a third of people have given "some" thought to this midterm
  • And they're not paying much attention to news about it
  • Why is that? Two possible reasons: The lack of perceptible consequences and other items in the news

The interest gap: Poll after poll is showing that interest in this election is the lowest of any in more than a decade. Gallup this week found that just 33 percent had given at least "some" thought to this midterm. That's the lowest clip since 2002 when 33 percent also said so. In 2010, when the highest total number of eligible voters turned out — 89 million — and Republicans won control of the House, 46 percent of respondents told Gallup they had at least "some" interest in the election. In 2006, when the Iraqi civil war was front and center and Democrats had taken the house, 42 percent said the same. "Turnout in the midterm elections this fall could be lower than in the past two midterm elections," Gallup warns. And turnout expert Dr. Michael McDonald is forecasting just 20 percent early voting participation, down from past years and a bad sign for overall turnout. And it's not just Gallup. the Pew Research Center is dubbing this the "meh midterm." It finds that just 15 percent of Americans are closely following news of the congressional elections, as compared to 25 percent in 2010 and 21 percent in 2006.

So what's going on? First, it's the consequences. Elections matter, and elections have consequences, but most see a continuance of gridlock as the likely outcome of this one — no matter who controls the Senate. After all, neither party will hold a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority after this election. There will still be divided government, even if it leans more in Republicans' favor with both chambers of Congress being controlled by Republicans if they net six Senate seats. Yes, President Obama will likely not be able to approve the judges he has been able to get through or the cabinet appointees — and those matter to long-term social issues and the everyday running of government.

It's the consequences of the outcomes: The consequences are just not what they were in 2010 and 2006. 2010 was the first chance for a protest vote by conservatives frustrated with one-party rule and the legislation that came of that. The country was still just two years removed from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and when Washington is controlled by one party, it's a lot easier to know who to take it out on. In 2006, for Democrats, it was a matter of war and one that was going very badly. In those elections, Gallup writes, "Americans were deeply dissatisfied with the state of the nation, as well as the jobs the president and Congress were doing. In those elections, the same party controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, so voters looking to change the government had a clear and obvious way to do so." Pew posits, "Perhaps Americans have gotten used to the idea of partisan control of at least one chamber of Congress being on a knife's edge."

Other news may have been more pressing: Or it could be other news is just more pressing or at least captivating: "Last week," Pew writes, "other topics in the news captured more of the public's attention, including the deadly spread of the Ebola virus in Africa and around the world (36%), U.S. airstrikes against ISIS (31%) and problems with the Secret Service (21%). Back in March, when we first asked this year, the public was more interested in the missing Malaysian jetliner, Russia's annexation of Crimea and the continued rollout of the 2010 health care law."

Another warning sign for Democrats: By the way, speaking of these polls in particular, yesterday we wrote about Democrats' midterm demographic problems, but what's worse for Democrats in this Gallup poll is that when you break down WHO has given at least "some" thought to the election, Republicans have a 12-point advantage — 40 to 28 percent. That 28 percent is the lowest in at least 16 years.

Daily Presidential Trivia:
On this day in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson triggered the explosion of the Gamboa Dike that ended the construction of the Panama Canal. Which president was responsible for the U.S. taking over construction of the canal? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you'll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to CTBobL ?(@CTBobL) for guessing Thursday's trivia: Who was the first president to throw out a first pitch at a major league baseball game? The answer was: William Howard Taft.

LINE ITEMS

  • Friday afternoon, President Obama will travel to Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas, Calif. to deliver remarks on the San Gabriel Mountains national monument designation. In the evening, Mr. Obama will travel to San Francisco to attend a DNC event.

  • During a town hall meeting Thursday in California, President Obama said it would be "suicide" for Republicans to not pass an immigration bill.

  • A federal judge in Texas struck down a 2011 voter ID law Thursday evening that required voters to show identification at the polls.

  • Also in Texas, a federal appeals court refused to reconsider its previous ruling on abortion restrictions that closed a majority of the state's abortion facilities.

  • The Supreme Court blocked the implementation of a similar voter ID law in Wisconsin, reversing a lower appeals court ruling three days ago.

  • In light of the Supreme Court's decision Monday, the West Virginia attorney general announced he will stop defending the state's same-sex marriage ban.

  • The 2014 Republican Party strategy? Tell voters that Democrats and the president are so inept they cannot protect the American people.

  • A robo poll showed the independent in the South Dakota Senate race within 3 points of the Republican. But Republicans say former Gov. Mike Rounds is still up double-digits and derides Democrats' reported $1 million ad buy in the state as desperate.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, helped Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts kick off his statewide bus tour Thursday, telling the crowd that Roberts fights for "conservative principles."

  • Roberts isn't the only one getting help from the outside. His opponent Greg Orman recently received monetary support from a few big money donors, once polls began to show Orman had a chance of winning.

  • Traditionally oil and gas bigwigs support Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, but if a vote against her means the Republicans could take the majority in the Senate, they might have to reconsider.

  • Hillary Clinton stumped for the Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, and she actually made it all about him.

  • Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defense secretary, is out with a memoir that has made headlines for its criticism of President Obama's leadership. Panetta joined NewsHour's Judy Woodruff to discuss his book, "Worthy Fights," the Islamic State and dysfunction in Washington.

  • This November, Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota will vote on proposals to raise their states' minimum wages. In Republican-controlled Arkansas, where the hourly wage is lower than the federal minimum, polls show overwhelming support for the measure. Jacob Kauffman of KUAR Public Radio reported in Little Rock for NewsHour.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

TOP TWEETS

If you plan to cast your vote on Nov. 4, take our quiz and see how much you know about the 2014 midterm elections.

[polldaddy type="iframe" survey="211B69CA9B1B72C6″ height="auto" domain="dcvanessa" id="how-well-do-you-know-2014-midterm-elections"]

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

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