Power Play Update: Is There a Democratic Surge Afoot?

((Be the first to get exclusive political content and the Power Play newsletter with Fox News' new AEHQ iPhone app))

After weeks of telling their base to "stop whining" and to "buck up," Democratic leaders now point to success in closing the elusive enthusiasm gap that has so plagued Democrats this year.

There's some evidence to show that President Obama's slide in overall public approval has slowed, and that Democrats are closing in on Republicans on the generic ballot - the Gallup survey was tied last week after a onetime 10-point lead by Republicans.

The White House has pointed to things like a rally for labor, liberal and immigration groups in Washington over the weekend, the president's visit to a hip-hop concert and a rally at the University of Wisconsin as the kinds of events that are helping get the base "fired up."

Power Players should remember two things:

First, there's an expectations game at play here. Democrats now discuss the prospect of losing 38 House seats and seven Senate ones as a victory. A period of feverish speculation in August convinced many that a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives was a fait accompli. A midterm loss of that size would be huge. The Democratic surge of 1982 fueled by frustration with the logy economy - the election to which Obama just last week drew a comparison - produced a gain of 26 seats.

That's why Democrats were so quick to glom on to the forecasts of pickups of 60 or 80 seats. Aside from helping to scare the base, it gives embattled party leaders a way to show progress. "Only 38 seats - we've got ‘em on the run now." Remember when Robert Gibbs got in trouble this spring for suggesting that a Republican takeover of the House was even a possibility? Now, just avoiding that outcome is being cast as a huge win by Democrats and sympathetic media outlets.

Don't get sucked into the expectations game.

Second, there's the fact that as elections draw new, they usually get closer. This is not to be confused with "momentum" or a "surge" or any of the similar terms being bandied about today.

When John McCain moved within 5 points of Barack Obama in mid-October 2008 in the Real Clear Politics average instead of the 8-point gap that had persisted since the September market meltdown, Republicans said it was evidence of a shift in the race. Not so. It was evidence of McCain voters coming home to roost as the election drew nearer.

Undecidedness is often expressed out of vanity or kindness, both of which fade as decision time draws near.

Much of what we'll see over the next four weeks will relate to "undecided" voters admitting where their allegiances really lie. The voters more interesting to campaigns in close races is the small number of folks who vote out of a sense of duty but haven't paid much attention until now. Likely but uncertain voters are rarer then hens' teeth - certainly when it comes to big, statewide races.

We'll see another round of generic-ballot polling today, including "likely" voter numbers from Gallup. Those will provide a useful snapshot in how the election is really shaping up.

History tells us that Republicans generally outperform polls by a margin of more than 3 points owing to the reliability of the GOP voting base when it comes to turnout compared to Democrats. There's a reason Republicans usually hope for bad weather on Election Day.

Enthusiastic and unenthusiastic votes all count the same in the ballot box. As is said about golf: They don't ask "how?" they just as "how many?"

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.