What Enthusiasm Gap?

The WSJ’s Gerald Seib, citing the most recent WSJ/NBC poll, tells us that that Democrats face a possibly dire enthusiasm gap heading in to the 2012 election. Jamelle Bouie addresses Seib’s argument:

For comparison’s sake, the 2010 congressional elections saw an enthusiasm gap of 5 to 7 points – enough to hand Republicans a landslide victory in the House of Representatives. Of course, with a little less than a year before the election, it’s too early to make any sure predictions about the eventual enthusiasm gap. Despite their dislike for Obama, it’s possible that tepid support for their nominee could depress enthusiasm among Republican voters. Likewise, combination of Republican extremism, economic growth, and renewed confidence in President Obama could rouse Democrats out of their slumber, and put the party on more competitive footing.

Jamelle is correct to caution against drawing big conclusions about a supposed current enthusiasm gap. But I’ll go further: Seib not only has no evidence that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting in 2012, he’s ignoring evidence from his own poll that suggests that compared to Democrats, Republicans are LESS enthusiastic about voting in 2012.

First, look at what Seib claims:

 A majority of Republicans, 56%, said they were more enthusiastic. By contrast, only 43% of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic. Other readings from the poll produced the same kind of picture of a fired-up Republican base and a more lethargic Democratic one.

Now, look at the wording of the poll:

This data doesn’t suggest that the Democratic base is lethargic, or that the Republican base is more “fired up” than the Democratic base. It simply suggests that since the last election the Republicans have posted a net gain in enthusiasm, but that’s compared to an election in which Democrats had massive turnout, huge excitement and a big enthusiasm advantage over the Republicans. Neither Seib nor WSJ/NBC have provided crosstabs, so we don’t know what the breakdown is between Democrats and Republicans on the rest of the question, but if the poll shows that the combination of “more enthusiastic” and “same” is greater among Democrats, that would mean that the Democrats have actually expanded their advantage in voter enthusiasm since the 2008 election, especially if the Democratic share of the entire electorate is a larger share compared to the Republicans than was the case in 2008.

Of course, it could be that some respondents to that question were thinking of 2010 rather than 2008. Maybe that would mean Republicans are even in more of a frenzy. But who knows? It’s such a poorly written question that leads to at best ambiguous conclusions that it’s nearly useless. But at best, it doesn’t support Seib’s claim.

But if you find it hard to accept that Democrats may have a more enthusiastic base, you should look at results from the same poll that Seib appears to have ignored:

Note that there are more than twice as many enthusiastic Obama voters than enthusiastic Romney voters, and more than twice as many Romney voters who would vote for him only because he’s the nominee than those who would vote for Obama because he’s the nominee. That finding not only doesn’t fit with Seib’s claim that Democrats face an enthusiasm gap, it strongly suggests that it’s Republicans who face an enthusiasm gap, the exact opposite of Seib’s claim.

Of course, it shouldn’t be news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the data that it’s not Democrats who have a bigger problem with their base, it’s Republicans. After all, if Republicans were so enthusiastic compared to Republicans, why would 52% of Republicans favor the creation of a third party, compared to only 33% of Democrats?

Barack Obama and Democrats up and down the ballot have a tough road ahead. But the idea that the Republicans’ have a larger and more enthusiastic base than the Democrats is at best dubious, and quite possibly the inverse of reality.

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2 Responses to What Enthusiasm Gap?

  1. Norbrook says:

    I think it’s rather ridiculous to be measuring “enthusiasm” this far out from an election. Normal people – which constitutes most of the electorate – aren’t really paying a lot of attention to the races.

  2. Not only that, but we already have our Presidential nominee, so a lot of Democrats feel more free to complain now about what he does. The real question is when the voting starts, and when the primaries start, will Dems come out to support lower level candidates?

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