For one thing, as The Upshot has previously reported, voters have an equally poor opinion of Democrats and Republicans, which makes the outcome of this year's midterms less easy to predict than many polls suggest. The second potential bright spot for Democrats: A new Public Policy Polling analysis finds that most undecided voters in Senate and gubernatorial races around the country are Democrats. According to PPP, an average 17 percent of likely Democratic voters are still on the fence about whom to support in November.
That means if Democrats can win over their own base, the party will be far more competitive than expected.
Still, that's easier said than done. The races that involve the highest quotient of Democrats staying on the fence are also in states where voters are either seriously unhappy with President Obama's job performance or have soured on the Democratic incumbent in the race.
For example, more than half of undecided voters in the California Senate race are Democrats, according to PPP. That's not great news for incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is facing a tougher than expected challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina.
In West Virginia, Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin's bid for Senate is being dragged down by Obama's growing unpopularity in the state. To win, he'll have to unite his base and put together an aggressive get-out-the-vote initiative — but according to PPP, 46 percent of Democrats are still unsure of whom to support in the race.
Ditto for Wisconsin's Senate race, where 40 percent of undecideds are Democrats. Recent polls in the race have found Sen. Russ Feingold trailing GOP opponent Ron Johnson by an average of 10 points.
According to PPP, Republicans have largely solidified their base ahead of November, thanks in part to record levels of enthusiasm for the election among conservatives. But if Democrats can somehow turn that dynamic around in the next four weeks, the party could manage to hang on to seats that presently seem out of reach.
That, of course, is a big "if," but PPP also notices that Democrats have started to become more engaged in 2010. In July, just 51 percent of Democrats say they were excited about voting on Election Day. Last month, that number increased to 59 percent — still more than 10 points lower than GOP enthusiasm numbers, but a rare sign of hope for a party on the brink of a pivotal election.
(Photo of Feingold and Boxer by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
- Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin
- Sen. Russ Feingold
- Republican Carly Fiorina