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Democrats face double-digit enthusiasm deficit ahead of midterms

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Voters Across The Country Head To The Polls For The Midterm Elections
Voters cast ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2018 in Kirkwood, Miss.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... President Biden meets with members of his administration to discuss lowering prices for families. ... The Latest NBC News poll finds Americans in a grim mood. ... The U.S. weighs troop deployment near Ukraine. ... Embattled Rep. Henry Cuellar has a new TV ad. ... And what an NFL playoff weekend.

But first: Democrats have a big enthusiasm problem 10 months before the midterm election, according to our NBC News poll.

While Democrats hold a narrow 1-point lead in congressional preference, Republicans enjoy a double-digit enthusiasm advantage, with 61 percent of Republicans saying they are very interested in the upcoming midterms — registering their interest either as a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale.

That’s compared with 47 percent of Democrats who have the same high level of interest.

In previous midterm cycles — whether 2006, 2010, 2014 or 2018 — the party that held a double-digit advantage in enthusiasm (or close to it) ended up making substantial gains, our pollsters say.

  • 2006: D+13 in high interest (Democrats picked up 30 House seats)
  • 2010: R+17 (GOP picked up 63 House seats)
  • 2014: R+11 (GOP picked up 13 House seats)
  • 2018: D+9 (Democrats picked up 40 House seats)
  • Now: R+14 (???)

What’s more, overall enthusiasm for the upcoming midterms is down from 59 percent who indicated a high level of interest in October, to 51 percent in this most recent poll.

And some of the biggest drops have come from key segments of the Democratic base, including Black voters, young voters and urban voters.

Now one significant caveat to these numbers is that the NBC News poll was conducted — Jan. 14-18 – during a demoralizing time for Democrats, as Senate Republicans were gearing up to block their voting-rights legislation.

So it’s more than possible to see the Democratic enthusiasm numbers increase the closer we get to Election Day.

But by how much?

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 20

That’s the percentage point decline in the portion of Americans who said they trusted what Dr. Anthony Fauci has said on Covid between our April 2020 poll and our latest one. (Note: The 2020 poll asked the question of registered voters, while the Jan. 2022 asked it of adults).

In April of 2020, 60 percent of registered voters said they trusted Fauci, while only 8 percent did not. But in January, 40 percent of adults said they trusted him, while 43 percent did not.

The trend is typical of a substantial decline in trust in public health officials since the start of the pandemic. Trust ratings for both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (down from 69 percent trust to 44 percent trust), as well as a respondent’s home-state governor (down from 66 percent trust to 38 percent trust) also dropped significantly across the two polls. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to trust those groups.

Amid that lack of trust, and partisan division, which entities do the majority of adults trust on Covid? Their employers and their children’s schools.

Other numbers you need to know today:

70 percent: The portion of adults who said in the NBC poll that they believe America has become so polarized and divided that it can’t solve its major issues, and that it will only get worse.

27 percent: The portion of adults who said that the nation will continue to come together during tough times to solve its greatest challenges.

8: The number of states that have seen a decline in Covid hospitalizations over the last two weeks (D.C. has as well), per an NBC News analysis.

2,202: The seven-day average of daily, reported Covid deaths, an average higher than it was during the delta wave.

Midterm roundup

Rep. Henry Cuellar’s primary was one to watch even before the FBI raided the Texas Democrat’s home last week. Cuellar is already hitting the airwaves, launching a new TV ad highlighting his background this weekend, per the Texas Tribune. The outside group Better Jobs Together, which has been running pro-Cuellar ads, went back up on the airwaves this weekend.

In other House primary news, Nebraska GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts and former GOP Gov. Dave Heineman endorsed state Sen. Mike Flood in his primary race against indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. Fortenberry was charged with lying to the FBI during an investigation into campaign donations from a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire. Fortenberry has denied doing so.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is traveling to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley this week to endorse David McCormick in the GOP Senate primary. A former hedge fund manager, McCormick is also in a heated battle for former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, NBC’s Henry Gomez and Peter Nicholas report.

And in Arizona, the state Democratic Party formally censured Sen. Kyrsten Sinema after she voted against a rules change aimed at passing voting rights legislation.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., launched a TV ad in the Democratic gubernatorial primary with a crime-focused spot that also knocks Gov. Kathy Hochul. Suozzi has spent $115,000 on the TV ad buy, per AdImpact.

On “MTP Daily,” NBC’s Shaq Brewster reported that progressive voters in Wisconsin told him they’re disappointed with Biden’s response to Covid. “The last guy just lied, and now this guy is saying all of these things that contradict each other,” one voter told Brewster.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The U.S. is moving the families of diplomats out of Ukraine and allowing non-essential employees to leave too amid concerns Russia will invade and as the US. weighs its military options. Meanwhile, the British are accusing Russia of trying to install a pro-Russian leader in the country.

Arizona and Georgia are suing the Biden administration in two distinct lawsuits, one over how to appropriate funds from the American Rescue Plan and one over Medicaid work requirements.

The ranks of the moderate GOP governors will likely dwindle after this election cycle, a trend term-limited Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan told NBC News is “bad for the country.”

Politico looks at all of the Senate candidates dropping big money on their own campaigns this cycle.