According to a new Pew Research poll (PDF) of registered voters in the upcoming congressional election, 45 percent are leaning Democratic while 44 percent are leaning Republican. This does not bode well for Democrats, since they need to have a significant lead in the generic ballot if they hope to hold onto their large majorities in the House and Senate. At the same time, these numbers also don’t point to a massive Republican wave. By comparison, at about this same time in 2006, Democrats led Republicans 50 percent to 39 percent.

The enthusiasm gap might be more important than the generic poll number. Pew, like almost every other pollster, has found Republicans far more engaged and excited about voting than Democrats. From Pew:

Republicans and conservatives continue [sic] express far greater interest in the election than do Democrats and liberals. More than half of Republicans (55%) say they have given a lot of thought to the election, compared with 37% of Democrats. Among Republican-leaning independents, 62% have given a lot of thought to the election; Democratic-leaning independents are much less engaged (29%). Among Republicans, conservatives are far more engaged than those who describe themselves as moderates or liberals (62% vs. 41%).

The poll also found engagement among young voters to be dismal. Pew found only 23 percent of voters under 30 to have “high campaign engagement.” That is less than half of the percentage of voters over 50 who have high engagement.

As a young person who is deeply involved in politics, I find this very disappointing. I know the importance of politics, and while I understand why many young people are tuning it out, this is still an unfortunate development. However, there is one small silver lining for me personally because I love good political data and care about the issue of marijuana legalization.

Since youth engagement and turnout is likely going to be very low across the country, it will be easier to determine if having Prop 19 to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana on the ballot results in increased engagement and turnout among young voters in California. Neither Democrat Jerry Brown nor Republican Meg Whitman seems to have the ability to fire up young voters for the gubernatorial race. If youth turnout in California significantly exceeds the levels in other states, it would be logical to conclude that having marijuana legalization on the ballot was responsible.