THE MIDTERM GAP NARROWS…. Unlike Gallup’s erratic generic-ballot tracking poll, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has proven to be far more stable over a long period of time. With that in mind, when it shows the midterm cycle narrowing, and the enthusiasm gap shrinking, it offers some legitimate encouragement to Democrats.

With Election Day exactly five weeks away, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the battle for control of Congress has tightened, as key Democratic-leaning demographic groups are expressing more enthusiasm about the upcoming midterms.

Among likely voters, Republicans now hold a three-point lead in the generic-ballot test for control of Congress, down from their nine-point lead last month.

Among registered voters, Democrats and Republicans are now tied on the generic ballot at 44% each. Among likely voters, a month ago, the GOP enjoyed a nine-point edge (49% to 40%), which has now shrunk to a three-point advantage (46% to 43%).

According to the NBC/WSJ analysis, the gap narrowed thanks to “increased enthusiasm for the upcoming midterms by African Americans (who saw a six-point gain in high interest) and Hispanics (who saw an 11-point gain).”

For Dems, that’s the good news. There is, however, good news for Republicans, too.

At its root, the larger national mood hasn’t changed much — voters are still deeply frustrated; the dislike of Congress remains intense; and younger voters, who tend to favor Democrats, are still prepared to sit out the midterm cycle.

That said, while the general trends clearly point to a GOP-friendly climate, Republicans probably hoped to be hitting their stride right and pulling away right about now, and that’s just not the case (at least not yet). The generic ballot is tightening; President Obama’s numbers have ticked up a bit; the Democratic Party is still more popular than the Republican Party; and the most well liked politician in America is Bill Clinton, who’s hitting the campaign trail for key Democratic candidates.

Moral of the story: Dems are in a tough spot, but it’s not over.

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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.