Less than a year out from the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans are more optimistic than Democrats about their party’s electoral prospects. But the “expectations gap” is far more modest now than it was prior to the 2010 election, when Republicans were brimming with confidence, or 2006, when most Democrats anticipated a midterm victory.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Dec. 3-8 among 2,001 adults, finds that 55% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters expect the GOP to do better than it has in recent elections, 33% think it will do about the same, while just 5% say it will do worse. Democrats and Democratic leaners are less confident: 43% say the party will do better than in recent elections, 43% about the same and 9% worse.
Partisans’ predictions are more closely divided than during either the 2006 or 2010 midterm election cycles. At a later point in the 2010 campaign (June 2010), fully 72% of Republican voters were confident in their party’s chances to do better in the midterms. By contrast, just 29% of Democrats thought their party would do better in 2010 than in recent elections.
At this point in the 2006 election, Democrats were highly confident of victory. In December 2005, 64% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters expected their party to do better in the 2006 midterms than in other recent elections; just 16% of Republican voters felt the same way about the GOP’s prospects.
GOP’s Modest Enthusiasm Edge
The overall level of voter enthusiasm for the midterms is about the same today as it was at a comparably early point in the 2010 campaign. About half (49%) of registered voters say they are very enthusiastic about voting in next year’s elections, 29% say they are somewhat enthusiastic and 19% say they are not too or not at all enthusiastic.
Republicans hold a modest enthusiasm advantage: 53% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they are very enthusiastic about voting, compared with 47% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.
At about this point four years ago, Republicans held a much wider enthusiasm edge. In November 2009, a 57% majority of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said they were very enthusiastic about voting in the midterms, compared with 43% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters.
At this early stage, registered voters split about evenly between whether they plan to vote Republican or Democratic in the 2014 midterms. Overall, 48% of registered voters say that if the elections for U.S. Congress were being held today, they would vote for the Democratic Party’s candidate in their district or lean toward the Democrat, while roughly as many (44%) say they would vote for the Republican candidate or lean Republican. Opinion is little changed since early October.
At about this stage in the 2010 election, voter preferences were divided; in January of that year, 46% supported the Democrat while 44% favored the Republican. Among registered voters the race remained close over the course of the campaign. However, the GOP maintained a decided engagement advantage throughout the year. In the Pew Research Center’s final pre-election poll that year, registered voters were divided, but among likely voters Republicans held a 48% to 42% advantage. In the November 2, 2010 election, Republican House candidates received 51% of the vote, compared with 45% for Democrats, and the GOP regained the House majority.
Democrats had the advantage among registered voters throughout the 2006 campaign. In February of that year, Democrats held a nine-point lead among registered voters (50% to 41%). Pew Research’s final poll that year showed Democrats with an eight-point lead among registered voters but a smaller edge among likely voters (47% to 43%). Democrats went on to win the national popular vote for the House, by 52% to 44%, and gained control of both the House and Senate.