Sorry, Larry, Democrats Curb Their Enthusiasm

No matter how the data is sliced, or who slices the data, a clear enthusiasm gap has emerged. I first blogged about the GOP advantage after the Virginia Gubernatorial race here, and after the House Battleground NPR survey here. Other pollsters have written about it. A handful of Democratic thinkers (pollsters, bloggers) have disputed whether the enthusiasm gap is real or significant.

The gap exists – the real question is how much will there be on Election Day. In Virginia, what should have been a ten point Bob McDonnell win over Creigh Deeds (still a landslide in a 53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Obama state) turned into an eighteen point win thanks to the GOP interest advantage. That kind of net eight point difference can take a lot of would-be close GOP losers and turn them into winners. Will it be as stark a difference in November 2010 as it was in 2009? That remains to be seen, but even a turnout boost of half that (four net points) is significant in close races.

My recent poll for American Crossroads in the 13 Battleground Senate seats found another significant enthusiasm gap. We use the question which asks voters how interested they are in the November elections on a scale of one to ten, “with one meaning that you have no interest in this election and ten meaning that you are extremely interested.”

We look at 10s (very high interest) and 8-10s (high interest), compared to 1-7 voters. There will be some voters who vote even though they are in the lower category, but they tend to be a significantly small of the electorate at the ballot box than they are in the survey.

In 2008, we found 86{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans rating their interest as an 8-10, compared with 85{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats. In the last mid-term elections, 2006, the GOP 8-10 interest was 73{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, while Dem interest was 74{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}. This reinforces the point I was driving about those cycles – we did NOT have a base problem. Instead, we had a massive vote gap with Independents. Democrats appear to have both – a problem with base enthusiasm, and a problem with Independent support.

In the American Crossroads Battleground Senate poll, the enthusiasm gap we’ve been seeing since last year remains – and the impact is significant:

  • Among base GOPers, 87{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} rate their interest as an 8-10, compared to 76{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of base Dems. At 79{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, soft GOP interest is HIGHER than base Dems! Soft Dems aren’t motivated – only 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} rate their interest as an 8-10.
  • Thus, there is an 16 point party gap – 83{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans overall rate their interest as 8-10, compared to 67{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats overall. (The gap among 10s is similar – 15 points).
  • While the gap between Whites (75{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are 8-10s) and African Americans (70{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are) is not that great, the problems Democrats have is white Democrats – only 68{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} rate their interest as 8-10.
  • While there are more Obama voters than McCain (no kidding, great insight Glen!), their enthusiasm has been curbed. While 84{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of McCain voters in these states rate their interest as 8-10, only 66{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Obama do so – an 18 point dropoff.
  • As could be expected given the partisan differences, the enthusiasm gap also extends to ideology. While very conservative voters are fired up, ready to go (89{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are 8-10s), only 68{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of liberals feel the same (so much for the conventional wisdom that only swing Dems are down on their leadership of Washington).
  • However, there is NOT a similar enthusiasm gap between somewhat conservative voters (71{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are 8-10s) and moderates (69{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).

What does this mean for the election? Democrats have a lot of digging to do to get their voters out. Among voters who rate their interest as an 8-10, the GOP lead on the ballot that is 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among the overall electorate widens to 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-36{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}!

Democratic Senate candidates could have slight leads in some of these races going into voting period and still lose because of a wave of GOP enthusiasm. The DNC is going to need to spend every penny of that $50 million they are talking about spending on turnout. Of course, even then they are more likely to learn a lesson GOPers learned in 2006 the hard way – you can’t make up in turnout what you’ve already lost in message (stayed tuned for my next two blog posts on Thursday).

Public Opinion Strategies