Recent polls show that Democratic prospects in the Midwest are looking better than at any time this year, but will recent positive movement be enough?

For several weeks, political analysts and observers have noted the stark decline in Democratic prospects in the Midwest. From Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, polls in the Midwest, have shown swing voters and independents falling into the Republican column.

The diagnosis for the Democratic party has been dire – win back independents or lose the country’s center and national electoral success along with them. However, several polling outfits in recent weeks have noted an increase in enthusiasm among Democratic voters translating into the potential to mitigate Democratic losses in November. Is this shift in polling outcomes significant or just oscillation? And will it be enough to save marginal Democrats?

The trends in two Midwestern states with strikingly different electorates, Ohio and Illinois, are proving to Democratic voters that elections are all about enthusiasm.

In Illinois, the incumbent governor's prospects are looking up. Gov. Pat Quinn has trailed in polls against his Republican opponent, state Senator Bill Brady in every poll taken since August – that is, until recently. Monday, a Suffolk University poll emerged that showed Quinn with his strongest lead in months, 43 percent to Brady’s 37 percent. A Chicago Tribune poll released last week showed Quinn moving up over his Republican opponent by a single point with 39 to 38 percent. With a four-point margin of error and 25 percent of voters uncommitted, this poll has its share of caveats. However, trend lines established from a prior Tribune poll show Quinn gaining in support from 32 percent in August to 39 percent today. Furthermore, Quinn’s job approval numbers have increased since the last poll, from 28 to 33 percent. These are not numbers that any candidate should rest on, but they do show a positive trend toward the Democrat.

In Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland has been suffering in polls since the summer. The latest two CBS/New York Times and Fox News/Rasmussen polls have some good news for Gov. Strickland; he trails his Republican opponent, John Kasich, by one and two points respectively. Unlike Illinois, however, Strickland’s numbers have not improved so much as Kasich’s have worsened. For most of August and September, Kasich often crested 50 percent of voter support. In the last week of September, however, Kasich’s numbers have decreased to the point of parity with Gov. Strickland.

In the Fox News/Rasmussen poll, the level of undecided voters has increased from 5 to 10 percent. That 10 percent of undecided voters held steady through the end of the month. While Kasich lost two points of support from one poll to the next, Strickland gained two points. The CBS/New York Times poll stands alone, and there is no trend line to show where movement in one direction or the other. However, it is clear that Strickland’s positive movement does not come from independents – in that poll, unaffiliated voted voters support the Republican candidate for governor by 44 to 33 percent.

Michael Sargeant, the Executive Director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, attributes the overall trend in positive polls for Democrats to “localized, personalized campaigns.” “We're seeing indicators that not only are more Democratic partisan voters are beginning to engage in these elections, but also that independent voters are starting to seriously evaluate their choices in the candidates laid out before them and are coming down on the side of Democrats,” said Sargeant.

Executive Director David Avella and Chairman Frank Donatelli with the Republican consulting firm GOPAC do not see cause for celebration among Democrats in the latest polls.

“Democratic pollster may be able to show Democratic candidates they are still in the game - but here is what Democratic pollsters don't want to tell their clients - they may not have hit the bottom yet either.” GOPAC’s executives cite unpopular legislative initiatives undertaken by the 111th Congress and the Obama Administration as being the key factors that will influence voter turnout and the partisan composition of the electorate on November 2nd. “The full effects of wave elections are not felt until Election Day - look at 1980, 1994, 2006.”

Neither party appears to be taking anything for granted and there is still enough time before Election Day for more movement in the polls in one direction or the other. But with so many comparisons to prior wave elections being made by political observers and none quite matching up to events, perhaps it is time to forgo comparisons and simply enjoy the rollercoaster that is 2010. Insofar as Democrats have new reason to be engaged, they can enjoy their ride as well.

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at