“The Enthusiasm Gap was Taken to the Woodshed”

Regular readers might guess this excerpt from a Chris Cillizza post is sweet music to my ears:

“The straight-forward conclusion is that this enthusiasm gap will play out at the voting booths in November, resulting in widespread GOP gains, led by a takeover of the U.S. Senate,” writes [Republican pollster Neil] Newhouse in a blog post on the Public Opinion Strategies’ website. “But, what if the enthusiasm gap is meaningless?”

As evidence of the potentially meaninglessness of having voters that are more fired up and ready to go than the other side, Newhouse points to polling data from the run-up to the 2012 election.

The 2012 numbers show an “enthusiasm gap” favoring Republicans similar to that being shown by similar polls today.

“The enthusiasm gap was taken to the woodshed by the Obama team’s [get out the vote] efforts,” writes Newhouse. “In a nutshell, the Democrats turned out voters who were ‘unenthusiastic,’ ‘unexcited’ and not ‘energized’ to vote, rendering the ‘enthusiasm gap’ meaningless.”

His point is simple: Enthusiasm is great. But enthusiasm without a get out the vote operation to bottle that passion into actual votes isn’t decisive. It’s Newhouse’s way of warning his party that there are still 85 days left before the election and that no one ever won in the middle of August. It’s a guard against complacency.

As I keep saying, you don’t get extra votes for being “enthusiastic,” or “energized” or even maniacally “psyched.” And indeed, Newhouse’s comments make you wonder if excessive faith in the “enthusiasm gap” was an important part of the self-delusion of the Romney campaign (and to an even greater extent, conservative opinion-leaders) in 2012. You know, all those yard signs that so thrilled Peggy Noonan.

Now Cillizza follows up with an entirely appropriate proviso that midterms aren’t like presidential elections, though illustrating it with a silly football analogy and the misleading observation that midterms are competitions between the two party bases. More accurately, midterms are contests in which older white people have for a very long time been more prone to vote–whether they are “enthusiastic” or not–than young and minority people. Given the current configuration of the two party coalitions, that creates a Republican advantage that the GOTV effort by Democrats is struggling to overcome. If it does, then once against the enthusiasm gap could be “taken to the woodshed.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.