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Another Reason To Question the "Enthusiasm Gap"

According to the settled and conventional view of things, Democrats are in trouble in this midterm election in no small part because progressives, unhappy with the Obama administration's timidity and/or pro-corporate leanings, plan to stay at home. This is, indeed, the central conviction at the heart of all the talk about an "enthusiasm gap" between Democrats and Republicans.

That's why Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen's recent post on Obama approval ratings among his own 2008 voters is so very interesting.

Our national poll last week- which is conducted with registered, rather than likely, voters- found that 88% of people who voted for Obama still approve of the job he's doing.

It's a different story with likely voters in the 16 states we've polled since switching over to LVs for our horse race polling in mid-August. Only in 3 of those states- Alaska, North Carolina, and Texas- has Obama maintained that level of popularity with people who voted for him. And in several key states where Democrats are having a lot of trouble it's dropped quite a bit.

So disgruntled 2008 Obama voters aren't, by and large, progressives who are planning on sitting on their hands November 2. They are likely voters who are straying into the Republican column, even as many satisfied Obama voters don't bother to go to the polls. That's certainly how Jensen sees it:

What these numbers suggest to me is that Democrats staying home aren't necessarily disappointed with how things have gone so far. The Democrats not voting are more pleased with how Obama's done than the Democrats who are voting. And when you're happy you simply don't have the sense of urgency about going out and voting to make something change. That complacency, more than the Republicans, is Democrats' strongest foe this year.

So the disparity in current likelihood to vote between Democrats and Republicans in part represents a "complacency gap" as much as an "enthusiasm gap." You'd think it would be relatively easy, particularly as Election Day approaches, to convince satisfied Obama voters that the president and the country are in pretty hot water if Republicans retake Congress. But time's running out for making that case, and sometimes voters need to be reminded graphically of the consequences of civic negligence, whether it's rooted in happy or unhappy sentiments.