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Democrats closing the 'enthusiasm gap,' Times/USC poll finds

October 22, 2010 |  1:34 pm

Has the much-vaunted “enthusiasm gap” in the 2010 election begun to narrow? At least in California, that seems to be the case, according to the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll.
 
The survey asked respondents to rate on a 10-point scale how enthusiastic they felt about voting this year. In September, when the poll asked that question, Republicans had a big advantage, with 42% of registered Republicans statewide rating their enthusiasm as a 10, compared with 27% of registered Democrats. In the latest survey, conducted statewide Oct. 13-20, that 15-point gap had nearly disappeared: 39% of registered Republicans rated their enthusiasm at 10, compared with 35% of registered Democrats.
 
A similar pattern shows up on ideology. In September, poll respondents who identified themselves as “conservative” were far more likely to rate their enthusiasm at 10 than those who said they were “liberal” -- 45% to 27%. In the October survey, the two were nearly at parity -- 40% of conservatives and 38% of liberals, a gap within the poll’s 2.5% margin of error.
 
How will all this affect the outcome of the races for U.S. Senate and governor? Full results of the poll will appear in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times and will be released Sunday morning on latimes.com.
 
In the meantime, what has changed to close the enthusiasm gap? Stanley Greenberg, one of the pollsters who conducted the survey for The Times and the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, noted that in September, many Republicans were excited about the prospect of winning the race for governor and the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Barbara Boxer. Since then, the Republican candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, has endured a month of mostly bad news, including the public surfacing of her former housekeeper, an illegal immigrant, and a series of polls showing her trailing Democrat Jerry Brown. The same polls consistently have shown Republican Carly Fiorina trailing Boxer. All that may have dampened Republican enthusiasm, Greenberg suggested.
 
On the Democratic side, party activists have been working to get their voters charged up, in part by painting an ominous picture of what might happen if Republicans have widespread victories. That may have rallied Democratic voters who had earlier been apathetic.
 
Despite the shifts in enthusiasm, the Times/USC poll continues to project a voter turnout this year that will be significantly more Republican than has been typical in recent elections in the state. The survey projects a 58% overall turnout of registered voters -- roughly on par with the 1998 and 2006 midterm elections -- but with registered Republicans making up 40% of the electorate and registered Democrats 44%. That four-point gap between the parties is much smaller than the 13-point gap in party registration.
 
To be considered a likely voter for the survey, poll respondents must have voted in 2006 and 2008, said they were “almost certain” or “probably” going to vote in 2010 and rated their enthusiasm about voting as 5 or higher. Those who registered since the 2008 election are included if they meet the enthusiasm standard and say they are “almost certain” to vote this time around. And, of course, all those who already have voted by mail -- about 7% of the voters surveyed -- are included.
 
The poll was done for the Los Angeles Times and the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences by two national polling firms, the Democratic firm Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner and the Republican firm American Viewpoint. It was conducted by telephone, including landlines and cellphones, Oct. 13-20,  among a random sample of 1,501 California voters. There was an oversample of Latino respondents for a total of 460 Latino interviews. Results reported are based on 922 likely voters.  Results for the full sample have a 2.5-point error margin, 4.6-point error margin for Latino respondents and 3.2-point error margin for likely voters.

-- David Lauter

 

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