Washington (CNN) - A leading Democratic pollster predicted a "sobering" turnout disadvantage for her party in this year's midterm elections and called on Democrats to articulate "a bigger economic agenda" this fall.
"There is a huge turnout disadvantage and challenge," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said Tuesday at a breakfast with reporters. "There is always a challenge in turnout in an off year, but it's really dramatic this time."
Lake was speaking a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. Lake and Republican pollster Ed Goeas revealed results of a new George Washington University poll that showed GOP voter intensity in 2014 outpacing Democratic intensity by seven points.
The poll indicated that 64% of Republicans say they are "extremely likely" to vote in November's midterms, compared with 57% of Democrats.
"I think we saw it play out in the Florida special," Lake said, referring to the GOP's special election victory earlier this month in Florida's 13th Congressional district. She called the Republican turnout machine in that race "darn effective," and said Democrats should not underestimate the GOP's get-out-the-vote operation this year.
"There are some people on our side who gloat about the Democrats' turnout advantage and kind of miss the Republican turnout operation," she said. "We tend to be dismissive of it, but it was very effective."
It's worth noting that voter intensity is an imprecise predictor of performance: In a George Washington University poll in mid-October 2012, weeks before President Obama won re-election and Democrats retained control of the Senate, Republicans had an 8-point lead over Democrats on the same likely-to-vote question.
Still, that was a presidential year, in which Democratic turnout jumped. Today, President Obama's approval ratings are grim, threatening midterm candidates in his party. Lake pointed to a several glimmers of hope for Democrats, though, including advantages over Republicans on issues like Medicare and Social Security that are important to older voters who play a larger role in non-presidential elections. As for the party base, she said "Democrats are very united and satisfied with their party."
What we learned from Florida-13
Lake said Democratic candidates must weave their policies and day-to-day campaign messages into a larger frame "solely focused on middle class populist economics."
"Democrats need to articulate a bigger economic agenda to really solidify this election," she said. "We talk about minimum wage, child care, and these are very popular policies. But we need a more muscular bigger economic agenda laid out there. "
Lake later said that "Democrats need to be on the side of small business. We need to be more aggressive and comfortable being on the side of small business."
The poll indicated that Republicans are fractured and hold their party in low esteem, with 61% of Republicans saying they are not pleased with the direction of the GOP. But Goeas pointed to the party's advantages when it comes to dealing with the economy, taxes and the federal budget - as well as President Obama's disapproval rating.
The survey showed that most Americans have never heard of the Koch brothers, the billionaire businessmen behind a constellation of well-funded conservative groups gunning to put Congress in GOP control. Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have sought to raise the Kochs' profile in recent weeks, hoping to tie Republicans to shadowy corporate interests.
"Trying to make the Koch brothers into red meat is going to be about as effective as what we tried to do for several cycles with George Soros," Goeas said. "Most people don’t know who they are."