Political Animal


August 27, 2012 5:03 PM No Enthusiasm Gap

By Ed Kilgore

Just as I always felt that conservative antipathy towards Mitt Romney would not keep “the base” from voting for him universally, I’ve also thought the supposed “enthusiasm gap” between Rs and Ds was a chimera, based to an excessive extent on slightly lagging job approval ratings for the president among self-identified liberals and/or subjective measurements of “enthusiasm” (which do not directly translate into likelihood to vote).

So it’s interesting that the latest WaPo/ABC poll, showing a dead heat between Obama and Romney, shows no “enthusiasm gap” at all, per an analysis by WaPo’s Chris Cillizza:

For all the talk that Republicans are more fired up and ready to go than Democrats, there’s no evidence of any enthusiasm difference between the two candidates’ supporters. Eighty five percent of registered voters supporting Obama say they are doing so enthusiastically while 83 percent of Romney supporters say the same of their guy. Even deeper into the numbers the story is the same: 45 percent of Obama backers are “very” enthusiastically supporting him while 42 percent of Romney backers are “very” enthusiastically behind him.

Now there will be other surveys with other measurements of “enthusiasm,” and analyses that seem to suggest that the “base” which is most excited will overwhelm the “base” which is calmer. But we need to understand a fundamental truth that is often forgotten: “Enthusiasm” which exceeds the willingness to cast a ballot only matters if it is communicable to other voters.

It’s beginning to become apparent that the exceptional passion of Obama-hatred among conservative “base” voters does not translate into some sort of thumb-on-the-scales on November 6. You only get one vote. And if your passion is part of a political message that repels swing voters, and helps mobilize the other party’s base, then it may be worth even less than nothing.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • MuddyLee on August 27, 2012 5:18 PM:

    You gotta vote - even if you're in a very red state. Send them a message - don't let crazy win. And if they win your state, don't let them think that everybody agrees with them.

  • Peter C on August 27, 2012 5:29 PM:

    From the numbers cited, it is clear that there is a 2 to 3 point enthusiasm gap IN OBAMA'S FAVOR.

  • SecularAnimist on August 27, 2012 5:54 PM:

    I am enthusiastic about voting for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.

  • POed Lib on August 27, 2012 6:00 PM:

    A vote for anyone else is a vote for Romney. Just so that you are very clear. This is only the case, of course, in OH, PA, MI, NV, WI, CO, NH, FL, VA, NC, or IA. If you live in any other state, you can vote for whoever you want for POTUS. But if you live in ANY of those states, a vote for anyone other than Obama is a vote for Romney.

    The Nader voters elected Bush in 2000.

  • liam foote on August 27, 2012 6:01 PM:

    GOP voters are not enthused about Mr. Romney. There are a good number whose hatred of Obama will drive them to the polls. But this hardly affects the independent voters or even the moderate Republicans (remember them?) who admit that they rather like the President.

    We are about to see an unprecedented tsunami of sleaze and slime from the Rove-Koch attack machine, "Swift Boat" Bob Perry and other conservative billionaires, including Vegas and Macau mogul, Adelson. But attacks and sleaze will not be enough for moderates and indies.

    I have long suspected that, even among the less educated white voters who tend to favor Romeny, there are a substantial number who will say, "Well, he got bin Laden and rescued our auto industry" and will then simply sit this one out, looking ahead to 2016.

  • mudwall jackson on August 27, 2012 6:03 PM:

    SecularAnimist on August 27, 2012 5:54 PM:

    "I am enthusiastic about voting for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein."

    and mitt and paul thank you!!!!

  • Kokuanani on August 27, 2012 6:26 PM:

    Ed, are you intentionally obtuse, or just incompetent?

    While you've quoted some numbers from that eminent political analyst [NOT!!] Chris Cizzilla, you really ought to focus on the statement you yourself made:

    “Enthusiasm” which exceeds the willingness to cast a ballot only matters if it is communicable to other voters.

    Where Obama is really going to see the effect of an "enthusiasm gap" is among people like me:

    2008: volunteered for Obama, phone-banked, walked the neighborhoods doing door-to-door GOTV, stuffed envelopes, donated to the furtherest extent of my financial ability; sent repeated e-mails to many friends, family & acquaintances urging them to vote for Obama. Voted for him myself.

    2012: after 4 years of Obama's MANY Bush-lite policies, plus his "dissing" of those of us on the Left, I've done, and will do NONE of the above. Luckily I live in a state that will reliably go Dem, so I can vote Socialist, Green, Working Families or whoever -- just to deny Obama my vote.

    Multiply me by a few thousand, especially in states where GOTV is crucial, and THEN talk about the effects of an "enthusiasm gap."

  • c u n d gulag on August 27, 2012 6:46 PM:

    I agree, if you don't live in a "safe" blue state like I do, in NY, a vote for anyone OTHER than Obama, is a vote for the KatzFoodJammin'DownYourThroat Twins.
    And that's IF you can afford the cat food in the first place.

    I, on the other hand, can vote for Julius Caesar, or Jesus Christ, and it won't make a difference.

    I won't waste my vote.

    Please don't waste yours on some 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th candidate.
    THAT'S how we got George W. Bush.

    THIS is the most important election of our lives!!!
    Until the next time rolls around, and the Republicans pick another knuckle-dragging caveman - only this time, not a rich, vulture capitalist one - but one who looks more like the rest of us.

  • Cha on August 27, 2012 8:23 PM:



    This is for Everybody but especially those who whine about "PObama being bush lite". I call bullshit.

  • Kathryn on August 27, 2012 8:36 PM:

    How anyone can consider doing what Kokuanani plans with the Supreme Court, womens reproductive lives and the threat of Cheney neo cons advising the buffoon Romney, war with Iran sound good K, because Obama disappointed is mind boggling. To be willing to see Romney and Ryan take us back to the last century on social issues because of pique, that 's remarkably shortsighted. Probably hopeless, but suggest you get a copy of the book "The New, New Deal" and also read TaNihesi Coates article in this months Atlantic Magazine for some perspective.

  • Jose Hipants on August 27, 2012 10:36 PM:

    How many percentage points is voter suppression worth? We need turnout sufficient to overcome the new restrictions of time, place, and registration. Not to mention new shenanigans we won't find out about until election day.

  • anonagain on August 27, 2012 10:41 PM:

    New names for Mitt on twitter--Robme, and Romnocchio.


  • Anonymous on August 27, 2012 11:23 PM:

    I hope that's true that there is no gap.

    However Gallup Polls that asked voters if they are going to vote and if so who they are voting for showed that Romney voters are planning to vote much more overwhelmingly than obama voters who are planning to vote.

    Liberals always lose as long as they only seek an ideal candidate instead of the candidate relatively closer to their ideals. Of course, no one who actually governs lives up to their ideals, so they lose their supports.
    COnservatives are idiots but liberals are losers.

  • Anonymous on August 28, 2012 12:49 AM:

    kokuamoron: A vote against Obama is a vote to shoot yoursefl in the head. kathryn is right - the SC is the issue. Ginsberg will not be there in 2016 - if Romney replaces her, Roe is done, the conservative power is ascendant, and normal americans are toast.

  • bluestatedon on August 28, 2012 8:34 AM:

    "...plus his "dissing" of those of us on the Left,... just to deny Obama my vote."

    I voted for Obama, but unlike you, I never expected that he would do everything I wanted. He's done, or not done, plenty of things that make me disappointed. Regardless, your characterization of him as "Bush-Lite" is willfully asinine. George W. Bush put Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court, and the direct result of that was Citizens United. Your implied assertion that Kagan and Sotomayor are no different than those two is an indication that you're basically a spoiled child with the same analytical skills as all those who believed that there was no meaningful difference between Bush and Gore in 2000, so 90,000 people like you voted for Nader in Florida. So what if we ended up with war in Iraq and the catastrophic Bush tax cuts—hey, you taught Al Gore and the Dems a lesson!

    But by all means, sit this election out, and persuade as many people as you can to do the same. Your daughter or granddaughter or niece or sister or wife will certainly thank you after Romney has put two more right-wing judges on the Supreme Court and they reverse Roe v Wade and institutionalize the Koch/ALEC agenda for the country. They'll thank you after the EPA is eliminated, after the FDA is gutted, OSHA is deep-sixed, and the last remaining vestiges of collective bargaining rights are strangled. All of that will be just fine, because Obama "dissed you."