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What message will voters send Washington in November? Maybe nothing

What message will voters send Washington in November? Maybe nothing
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., right, campaigns for North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis, left. (Gerry Broome / AP)

In my column on Wednesday, I wrote that most of the campaigns for this November's Senate elections haven't set voters on fire. Instead of a "Seinfeld election," the television show that comes to mind is "Curb Your Enthusiasm".

"Except for a few high-intensity states, we're in for an apathetic election with low voter turnout," I forecast. "That will help Republicans win more close races, and make it more likely that they pick up the six additional Senate seats they need to gain a majority. If that happens, GOP leaders will claim that the voters have given them a mandate — but without a true conservative surge, it won't be much of a mandate at all."

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FOR THE RECORD

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Oct. 1:, 9:25 p.m.: A previous version of this post said the "enthusiasm gap" between Republicans and Democrats is roughly as big this year as it was in 2014. The year should have been 2010.

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Here's more of the polling data that backs up that argument:

Voter enthusiasm in general is lower than it was in 2010, when Republicans won a resounding victory. (That's what we mean when we talk about a "wave election.") At this point in 2010, the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 50% of voters rated their interest in the upcoming election at 10 on a scale of 10. Last month, a similar poll (co-sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center) found only 44% were equally excited this year.

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What counts on Election Day, of course, is whether one side's voters are more enthusiastic (and thus more likely to turn out) than the other's. It's not a foolproof way to predict turnout, because it's always possible for the less-enthusiastic party to narrow the gap with a turnout operation, but it's still pretty good.

On that count, Republicans have a clear advantage. In the NBC/Journal/Annenberg poll, 54% of Republicans said they're "highly interested" in the November elections, compared with 44% of Democrats. That "enthusiasm gap" is roughly as big this year as it was in 2010.

But will that translate to a clear mandate for Republican policies? Here's a final excerpt from that poll: When voters were asked whether they intended their vote this fall to serve as a message to Washington, only 13% said they'd be voting as a signal of support to Republicans in Congress. A larger number, 17%, said they'd be voting as a signal of disapproval for President Obama.

Those were all presumably Republican voters. Meanwhile, only 10% said they'd be voting in support of Democrats in Congress, and only 15% said they'd be voting in support of Obama.

The biggest number: Voters who say they aren't sending a signal to Washington either way -- 42%.

Follow Doyle McManus on Twitter @doylemcmanus and Google+

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