Over the past few months leading into these midterms there has been nothing but a nonstop litany from the mainstream media about how unenthused Democrats are, how the Tea Party is going to take over Congress, how Democrats are going to have to live with the fact that health reform and financial regulatory reform will be repealed by the New Generation of TeaBirchers, and so on.
It requires a daily reality check on my part, because I just don't see it. In my district, I see enthusiasm everywhere I go, as do others. President Obama is coming to USC this Friday for a GOTV rally, and they've already had to move the venue to USC alumni park due to overwhelming demand. (I plan to be there with my cameras, by the way). Last Sunday, 35,000 turned out for his rally in Boehner territory. The week before, 18,000 in Philadelphia. Yet, if you watched either of those two rallies on CSPAN, what you saw was a tight shot of the President's face with no pans of the crowd whatsoever. None. Zero. Not only that, they squelched the crowd response sound, so one was left with the distinct impression that the rallies had low attendance and enthusiasm.
These impressions and themes are not accidents. There are $200 million real benefits to our corporate media in the "Republican takeover" narrative, and so they will continue to tell their viewers, readers and listeners about this mythical enthusiasm gap. Take this CBS News report as an example. The frames are remarkable because they had to twist them up so much to make them fit the bill:
CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports that, for the White House, keeping control of the House and Senate is all about getting Democrats and Independents who voted for the president in 2008 back to the polls, and on that score, the latest poll numbers show Mr. Obama hasn't closed the sale.
Only two-thirds of Obama voters in 2008 (67 percent) say they'll vote for one of his fellow Democrats in 2010. Eight percent of those voters say they will vote Republican this year, and 21 percent say it depends.
Pay attention to those numbers. 67% are a definite yes. 8% say they'll vote Republican. 21% say they're undecided, or that it "depends" on something (whatever that "something" is). From where I'm sitting, that would add up to a possible 88% of 2008 voters voting Democrat in 2010. But wait, there's more. On the question of independent voters, CBS earnestly informs their readers of a big erosion in support.
The biggest erosion of support is among independents; just 42 percent of Obama's 2008 independent voters say they'll support a Democrat this year. Twelve percent say they'll vote for a Republican, and 38 percent were still undecided.
First, let's have a look at how that paragraph was written. Like the one above it, the smallest number leads a sentence, which means it must be written as words rather than numbers under the style guide. Therefore, the reader leaps past the 8%/12% numbers right into that eroded support which isn't so eroded when you look objectively. 12% will vote Republican. 42% of independents remain committed to Democrats, and 38% are undecided. That is a potential of 80% retention among independent voters. Again, not so bad. Unless, of course, you're a Republican.
Moving on to more local reports now. Here's one from North Carolina about their early voting. Check the headline: White GOP men stand out in early voting. And I've got to say, I just love the frame on this one too:
During the 2008 Democratic sweep, black Democratic women led all groups during the 17 days of early voting. But during the first three days of early voting this year, it is white Republican men.
"Early voting doesn't favor one party or another, but reveals who's most organized and enthusiastic about making their voices heard," said Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina.
Now, to read that, you'd think there was an overwhelming rush of white Republican dudes to the early voting lines, right? Not so much.
So far this year, registered Democrats are edging out Republicans, 31,910 to 27,623.
They do hasten to add that in 2008, Democrats were early voting in a 3-1 ratio, however, because we can't have that Democratic lead take too much of the reader's attention. Never mind that 2008 was an historic election with an unprecedented primary season. Because it's all about the angry white Republican this year, despite evidence that independents are breaking for Democrats, particularly in North Carolina.
Howie Kurtz is already doing spin control just in case it doesn't play out the way it's expected.
I’m not saying this is intentional, or that the MSM are mangling the midterms. Many voters are angry, especially about the anemic economy, and it’s their right to toss out whoever they deem to be the bums. But on some level, many journalists believe the White House has accomplished a heckuva lot, and they see the Tea Partiers as inchoate and maddeningly inconsistent—denouncing big bad government while clinging to their Medicare and Social Security benefits. It’s as if the pundits are collectively engaged in a group grope, feeling their way around this strange and sharp-toothed political animal that resembles nothing they’ve encountered before.
Are there no history books? Have they not ever considered looking at similar times in the past? Nothing they've ever encountered before? Really??? Perhaps someone should send Howie Rick Perlsteins excellent books chronicling the Goldwater and Nixon years. He could learn a lot from Amato and Neiwert's book too. Evidently the only people who haven't encountered this before are journalists who live in the pure present with not so much as a hat tip to the past. I grew up in the 1960-1970 version of John Birch land. Back then they were just Birchers, but they weren't any less bizarre.
Need more examples? Here are a few:
A vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive has failed to diminish the resurgent Republicans' lead among likely voters, leaving the GOP poised for major gains in congressional elections two weeks away, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Among likely voters, Republicans hold a 50% to 43% edge, up from a three-percentage-point lead a month ago.
In the broader category of registered voters, 46% favor a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 44% who want Republican control. But in the 92 House districts considered most competitive, the GOP's lead among registered voters is 14 points, underscoring the Democrats' challenge in maintaining their hold on the House. The poll of 1,000 registered voters was taken Oct. 14-18.
Politico reports that the early vote numbers are a bad omen for Harry Reid. Check how these numbers twist:
Some 47 percent of early voters in the bellwether Washoe County so far have been Republicans, while 40 percent have been Democrats, according to the Washoe County Registrar. Nearly 11,000 people had voted in Washoe over the first three days of early voting, which began Saturday.
Voter registration in the county is evenly split, 39 percent to 39 percent. The disproportionate turnout is a concrete indication of the Republican enthusiasm that is expected to portend a nationwide GOP wave.
In Clark County, which is heavily Democratic, more Democrats than Republicans have voted, but Republicans are outperforming their share of the electorate.
Out of the nearly 47,000 votes cast in Clark County, 46 percent were Democrats, 39 percent Republicans, according to the Clark County Election Department. But while Democrats make up 46 percent of the county's registered voters, Republicans constitute just 33 percent.
See how they did that? 47,000 votes cast. 46% Democrat; 39% Republicans in the first three days. And then they compare apples and oranges with the comparison of percentage of votes cast to percentage of registered voters. That took some work to spin, but then, Politico is well-practiced at it.
Finally, not to be ignored, the Washington Post weighs in to remind us all that Democrats have a daunting task ahead.
Democrats across the country know they face a daunting enthusiasm gap that veteran politicians such as Reid can't possibly overcome. What they can do is try to outperform their Republican opponents by taking advantage of the longer window to get folks to the polls.
Can't possibly overcome? Really? In a state where there are 60,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans? Why, you'd think with that horrible, terrible, awful enthusiasm gap Republicans could have overcome that pesky problem of having fewer registered voters in their state, wouldn't you? But no, that's now how it works in the Land of Media Narratives.
I'm not saying we should be sitting back on our haunches and getting complacent. We should all be getting out the vote in a big way between now and November 2nd. But there is a misshapen and dreadfully out-of-reality narrative being fashioned, and it's worth nailing them on it now.
I really want the pleasure of watching them all twist around on November 3rd to figure out "how they missed it". So go vote. Just do it, whether or not you're enthusiastic.
Update: Well, this is interesting. It looks like Gallup's likely voter model maybe isn't really all that accurate. That could be your enthusiasm gap right there.