With six weeks to go

WITH SIX WEEKS TO GO…. Remember a couple of weeks ago, when Gallup’s generic-ballot tracking poll showed Republicans leading Democrats by 10? It was billed as the GOP’s biggest Gallup lead in the history of humanity, and the results generated massive media attention, including a stand-alone Washington Post piece on page A2. It was iron-clad evidence, we were told, of impending Democratic doom.

I strongly recommended caution — Gallup’s generic-ballot tracking poll has been erratic and unreliable. Both parties had built up big leads in recent months, only to see them quickly disappear, for no apparent reason. I made the case that inconsistent polls with bizarre swings are necessarily suspect, but the media had its narrative — the GOP tsunami is coming — and couldn’t be bothered to consider whether the Gallup poll had merit.

6-efr7el1ukvbckqjue7oa.gif

In the weeks since, the Republican lead vanished, then reappeared, then evaporated again. In the new poll released yesterday, Democrats have a one-point lead over Republicans, 46% to 45%. Dems who rejoice are making a mistake — the moral of the story over the last several weeks is that Gallup’s generic-ballot tracking poll just isn’t telling us anything useful, no matter which party likes the results in any given week. The “caveat emptor” phrase was made for results like these.

I mention this, though, for two other reasons. The first is that the media’s double standard is annoying. If Gallup results Republicans like are big news, the opposite should be true, too, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. If major outlets are running stories this morning pointing to “resurgent Dems re-take the lead,” I haven’t seen them.

The second is that, while I think it wise to discount the Gallup generic-ballot tracking data, it’s probably worth noting that the overall picture seems to have improved ever-so-slightly for Dems recently. Looking at the Pollster.com chart, at least as of this morning, Republicans have seen their national numbers dip just a little over the last couple of weeks, while Democratic numbers have inched a little higher. If one excludes Rasmussen results, the picture for Dems looks a little friendlier still.

The point, I suppose, is that the midterm cycle isn’t finished just yet. I still believe the “enthusiasm gap” is the single most important factor in the elections, and if the Democratic base can bring itself to show up on Nov. 2, it has the potential to make a lot of pundits promising a GOP tidal wave look foolish.