Who Will Win The Enthusiasm Vote In November?
The midterm elections have become more chaotic and uncertain as the Kavanaugh hearings fuel to the already raging partisan flames.
One clear result from the Kavanaugh blowup is that it has closed the enthusiasm gap between the parties. An October 9 to 12, CBS News/YouGov poll found more Republicans very enthusiastic about voting (62 percent) compared to last month (51 percent). A majority of Democrats (61 percent) are also very enthusiastic, but the gap in desire to turn out is now even. About eight in 10 Democratic and Republican voters say they’ll definitely vote in November – a slight increase from a pre-Kavanaugh CBS poll.
But the closure of the enthusiasm gap may not have uniform results. The election impact may be a split outcome. In four states where Democratic Senators are running for re-election, Trump and his Supreme Court choice is highly popular. Senators Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana may go down to defeat because the intensity of their liberal base’s opposition prevented them from moving to the center and voting for Kavanaugh. Last year, both Donnelly and Heitkamp, for example, voted for Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court choice.
For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks the excesses of the Kavanaugh opposition are a “great political gift.” He told The Hill newspaper on Saturday that “The tactics have energized our base. I want to thank the mob, because they’ve done the one thing we were having trouble doing, which was energizing our base.”
But there is a flip side of the political impact. The confirmation of Kavanaugh could inflame suburban women, who will play a key role in deciding whether or not the GOP can defend 24 seats won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Take Southern California, where Democrats are currently leading or tied in four Orange County districts Clinton carried but which also elected a Republican in 2016.
A Democratic poll released Wednesday found that women in the four Orange County seats said they would be less likely to vote Republican if Kavanaugh was confirmed. That may explain why national Republican campaign committees have stopped spending money to save GOP incumbents Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher, leaving them to largely fend for themselves.
But Democrats could stumble in their appeals to independent and subruban voters in key House districts in the campaign finale. The left-wing base of the party is urging Democrats to impeach the newly installed Justice Kavanaugh and even support packing the Supreme Court with additional liberal Justices if they win both the White House and Congress in 2021. There have been nine Supreme Court Justices since 1869.
Combine that with a complete breakdown in political civility. President Trump’s exaggerations, insults and hyperbole are well known and voters have baked that into their thinking about the midterms. But the Kavanaugh fight has revealed a streak of Democratic anger and partisanship that could prove just as unpopular with independent voters.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey demands activists “get up in the face of some Congresspeople.” Hillary Clinton says “you cannot be civil with” Republicans. Eric Holder, the Attorney General for six years under Barack Obama, wants liberal activists to “kick” Republicans.
Turnout is always the most important factor in midterm elections. In a typical midyear, only about half of eligible adults vote. Enthusiasm is up this year, but there’s still time for some voters to conclude that both parties aren’t deserving of power. If that happens, there’s no way to currently tell if any “apathy backlash” will hurt one party or another. We’ll just have to wait for Election Day to find out. LW