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updated 10/12/2006 5:48:48 PM ET 2006-10-12T21:48:48

Picture October 1994. Grunge was still in, nobody had ever heard of blogs, Brenda Walsh had just left her "90210" zip code, Newt Gingrich had yet to become a household name. And, riding a wave of dissatisfaction with the government, American voters were about to sweep Republicans into power.

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Both houses of Congress changed hands that year, and new numbers suggest conditions for another sea change are even more ripe this year.

The Pew Research Center poll (PDF), conducted in conjunction with the Associated Press, found that 51 percent of respondents said they've given "quite a lot" of thought to the November elections; four in 10 said they've given "only a little."

That's more enthusiasm than at this point in the cycle 12 years ago, according to Pew's analysis. In early October 1994, half of respondents said they'd only pondered the elections a little, and 44 percent said they'd thought about it a lot. In fact, none of the early October numbers Pew recorded from off-year elections show as high a level of interest as this year's statistics.

But the electoral math is still challenging for the Democrats. They need to win 15 new seats in the House and six new seats in the Senate -- and although both of those numbers are lower than Republicans' 1994 gains, more than a decade of redistricting has made pickups more challenging than ever.

Respondents to the current poll said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year only by a slender plurality, 39 percent to 36 percent. But Pew's trend data show that's considerably more energy than in October 1994, when a Gallup poll showed a 44-percent plurality saying they were less excited about voting and just 34 percent saying they were more excited.

The Pew survey found a fair amount of voter engagement. About three-quarters of Pew respondents said they've seen or heard campaign commercials on the air, and 43 percent said they've signed or circulated a petition. Fewer respondents -- about a quarter in each case -- said they've attended a campaign event or donated money to a candidate.

But AP's analysis reminds readers of an old political truth -- midterm apathy -- noting that "in the past, high levels of voter interest haven't always translated into votes, especially in midterm elections."

Campaign check: Keeping An (I) On Connecticut
Hoopla surrounding Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont died down after August's contentious Democratic primary, in which Lamont came from the left to beat incumbent Lieberman. Now, with Lieberman staying in Connecticut 's race as an independent, new polling numbers suggest he'll be returning to D.C. for the next session anyway.

The survey -- conducted for the Hartford Courant by the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis -- showed Lieberman with a 7-point lead over Lamont among registered voters, 46 percent to 39 percent.

Democrats stuck with Lamont by substantial margins. Fifty-six percent said they would vote for the war opponent and former cable company executive, about 20 points more than the percentage who said they'd vote for Lieberman. Independents leaned toward Lieberman, 45 percent to Lamont's 37 percent.

But Republican voters are key to Lieberman's support. His numbers were huge among GOP respondents: Two-thirds said they planned to vote for the incumbent. (The Republican candidate is merely a placeholder in the race, polling at just 9 percent among Republicans and 3 percent overall.)

Gwen Glazer is managing editor at nationaljournal.com

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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