GIVING VOTERS A REASON…. The notion of an “enthusiasm gap” between Democratic and Republican voters has been apparent for several months, but I think it came into sharper focus last November. A Research 2000 poll conducted for Daily Kos added a question to its usual mix for the first time: “In the 2010 Congressional elections will you definitely vote, probably vote, not likely vote, or definitely will not vote?”

Markos Moulitsas described the results as “shocking,” and they were. At the time, 81% of self-identified Republican voters were either “definitely” or “probably” voting in the midterm elections, while only 14% were not inclined to participate. Among self-identified Democratic voters, 56% were either “definitely” or “probably” voting, while 40% were unlikely to go to the polls.

That, of course, is a recipe for Democratic disaster. While generic-ballot tests tend to show the parties at near parity, it’s just as important to consider which party’s voters actually intend to show up at the ballot box. If Dems are feeling depressed and disappointed, while Republican voters are feeling motivated and excited, the Democratic majority will disappear.

It’s interesting, then, to see the gap narrow this week. Markos had this report today, taking a look at the new data:

Three weeks ago, 40 percent of Democrats were likely or definitely going to vote, compared to 51 percent of Republicans — an 11 point “intensity gap”. Two weeks ago, as the battle for health care reform heated up, and GOP obstructionism came in full view, the numbers were 45 percent for Democrats, 56 percent for Republicans — both sides equally riled up.

This week, the numbers are 55 percent for Democrats, 62 percent for Republicans. While both sides saw big spikes in their numbers, Democrats were particularly energized, with that intensity gap narrowing from 11 points to a far more manageable seven.

We said it all along — give us a reason to get excited and fight, and Democrats will get excited and itch for a fight.

Notice, Republican numbers bumped up, too. There’s little doubt that the rank-and-file GOP is feeling motivated. Of course, we already knew that.

The key, though, is that Democrats, as they see their leaders starting to succeed, are deciding to start getting back in the game.

The more Dems can maintain some enthusiasm among its voters, the better they’ll fare in November. That means getting the job done on Wall Street reform, repealing DADT, tackling an energy/climate bill, and getting to work on immigration.

Five months ago, it looked like Democratic policymakers were going to crush the hopes of its supporters, and ruin their re-election chances in the process. It’s still an uphill climb, but success begets success.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.