More Enthusiastic Than Usual: What’s Usual?

One of today’s most talked-about political news items is a Gallup report with this headline: “Democratic Voting Enthusiasm Down Sharply From 2004, 2008.”

Democrats are significantly less likely now (39%) than they were in the summers of 2004 and 2008 to say they are “more enthusiastic about voting than usual” in the coming presidential election. Republicans are more enthusiastic now than in 2008, and the same as in 2004….

The current 51% to 39% Republican advantage in voter enthusiasm is slightly larger than the 53% to 45% GOP advantage Gallup measured in February of this year.

Sounds bad for Democrats, right? And it gets worse, because Gallup’s numbers showed Dems being “more enthusiastic about voting than usual” at higher rates than Republicans in 2004 (68/51) and 2008 (61/35).

But Gallup also noted that by election day in 2004, the “enthusiasm” numbers wound up being even, even though at this point in the year Democrats had a larger advantage than Republicans do today.

I have another concern, however, about how this question was posed: Are you more enthusiastic about voting than usual? What’s “usual” for a Democratic voter? Is the standard 2008? If so, that’s a pretty high bar, since I don’t know too many Democrats who will ever be more enthusiastic about voting than they were in 2008. And the flip side of the coin is worth thinking about as well: when Republicans say they are “more enthusiastic than usual,” are they, too, thinking of how they felt during the last presidential election? If so, it’s no wonder they’re more enthusiastic today!

I’m not trying to dismiss the Gallup findings; they do represent a data point about likely partisan turnout in November, if a fairly hazy one that could well change when Election Day gets nearer, particularly if the Obama campaign does a competent job of informing Democrats (and everyone else) about Mitt Romney’s policy agenda and other consequences of the outcome. But these kind of how you feel relative to how you usually feel questions are inherently slippery, aside from the more fundamental point of the diminishing value of “enthusiasm” once the decision to vote has been made.

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.