“Enthusiasm Gap” Revisited–and Reversed?

A lot of the discussion of “enthusiasm” in the lead-up to elections has always struck me as suspect. Certainly a lot of the endless talk of a pro-Republican “enthusiasm gap” in 2010–attributed variously to the Tea Party movement, or to Obama’s “socialism,” or to Obama’s base-deflating “centrism”–conflated “enthusiasm” with the eternal tendency of older white voters to cast ballots in midterm elections in significantly higher percentages than younger and non-white voters.

Since we are now in a presidential cycle with an eternally different set of demographic turnout tendencies, it’s not surprising that, all other things being equal, the pro-GOP “enthusiasm gap” seems to be declining. But turnout patterns aside, even direct measurements of “enthusiasm”–based not just on likelihood to vote, but on, you know, actual enthusiasm–seem to be changing as well. That’s implicitly apparent in the relatively low turnout (outside of South Carolina) being generated by this year’s flawed GOP presidential field. But it’s more explicitly apparent in a new PPP survey of actual excitement about voting:

Our last national survey for Daily Kos found that 58% of Democrats were ‘very excited’ about voting this fall, compared to 54% of Republicans. Six months ago the figures were 48% of Democrats ‘very excited’ and Republicans at the same 54%. Generally you would expect voters to get more excited as the election gets nearer. That trend is occurring on the Democratic side, but not for the GOP.

Going deeper inside the numbers:

-25% of conservatives are not at all excited to vote this fall, compared to only 16% of liberals.

-The percentage of Tea Party voters ‘very excited’ about voting in November has declined from 73% to 62% since late July.

And here’s something from this survey that we haven’t heard lately:

-The single group of voters most enthused about turning out this year are African Americans, 72% of whom say they’re ‘very excited’ to cast their ballots.

The CW has long been that the huge 2008 African-American vote for Obama was a unique phenomenon based on the historic nature of his candidacy, and given the poor objective conditions of life for African-Americans right now, this vote was very likely to decline. Maybe not.

Now direct measurements of “enthusiasm” can obviously change, and are obviously limited in their significance, since even the most “enthusiastic” voters only get one ballot. I also think Democrats would be foolish to think that current “base” disgruntlement with the GOP presidential field can be translated into low turnout assumptions. But it is increasingly clear that a right-bent GOP can no longer pretend it will be able to ignore swing voters and cruise to victory on the power of wildly energized Tea Party folk snake-dancing to the polls to evict the hated Obama.

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.