Just a few weeks ago, Republican strategists were fretting over a complacent GOP base. Rank and file Republicans didn’t believe that Democrats could possibly capture the House, much less the Senate. Polls were all fake news because Trump beat Hillary and the president told them so. Living in their bubbles, they assumed most of the country supported Trump as much as they and their friends did.
Democrats, on the other hand, were, and are, fired up. They’re heading to polls to rein in an out-of-control GOP Congress and criminally corrupt president. The polls recognized this motivation, showing a huge enthusiasm gap that favored Democrats as the midterms headed into their final weeks.
Now, it’s all up in the air. The Kavanaugh hearings have awakened the GOP base. According to a poll yesterday, the enthusiasm gap is gone, erased by an anger over what the Republican base sees as an attempt to steal a Supreme Court seat. Trump is goading them on, mocking Christine Blasey Ford and the Republican Senators are starting to fall in line. The Kavanaugh hearings aren’t likely to increase Democratic enthusiasm because it is already so high.
All of this could change before the election. We’re in an age where huge swings in the electoral mood can happen in hours or days instead of weeks and months. Republicans will vote on Kavanaugh in the next few days. If he’s approved, the GOP base might take it as confirmation of their original feeling that their party is firmly in control. In other words, they might go back to sleep.
However, if Kavanaugh is blocked, the result is even more uncertain. The base may take their anger out on Democrats at the ballot box. They might stay home, though, feeling discouraged because the GOP Senate let them down. They know Republicans control the government and they expect them to exercise their power.
So what does all this look like in North Carolina? In the last two midterms, 2010 and 2014, 51% of registered Republicans voted. Only 44% and 46%, respectively, of registered Democrats did so. Democrats hold an almost 10 point registration advantage in the state. If their enthusiasm can make up the five point difference in turn out from 2014, they’ll do very well, especially if the unaffiliated voters break for them as they seem poised to do. In other words, Democratic turnout needs to match or exceed GOP turnout, something that hasn’t happened in 12 years.
However, Republicans have a new group of voters who threw Donald Trump over the top two years ago. GOP turn out in 2016 was 75%, about three percent higher than any other recent presidential elections. If that three percent gets motivated, they can seriously mitigate Democratic gains. The Kavanaugh hearings may provide that motivation.
In November, Democrats will likely have a good night regardless of the Kavanaugh hearings. However, an awakened Republican base would keep it from being a great night. It could be the difference in picking up a few seats and taking back the majority in one of the two legislative chambers.