No Enthusiasm Gap

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.