It’s Biden, Not Trump, Who Has the Enthusiasm Advantage

The former VP doesn’t have a cult following like the president, but all the energy is on his side.

The precincts have all reported in Tuesday’s Republican Party runoff in the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, and the two candidates are separated by seven votes. Now the lawyers will get involved and it should form an entertaining spat between President Donald Trump, who endorsed Tony Gonzales, and Senator Ted Cruz, who endorsed Raul Reyes. Neither of them is favored to hold the seat, which is currently occupied by Rep. Will Hurd, but don’t let anyone tell you that your vote doesn’t matter.

Do you know what doesn’t matter, though? It doesn’t matter whether Reyes’ or Gonzales’ supporters were more enthusiastic about voting for them, because every vote counts the same. That’s why Trump’s embattled campaign manager Brad Parscale is on pretty thin ice when he says the president’s enthusiasm advantage over his challenger is “the most important factor in the campaign.”

As Michael Tesler writes for FiveThirtyEight, “Biden voters may not be all that excited about voting for Biden, [but] they’re very enthusiastic about voting against Trump,” and “the share of Trump voters who rate Biden unfavorably is consistently much lower than the share of Biden voters who rate Trump negatively — nearly 30 percentage points lower as of the last survey conducted at the end of June.”

Of course, it doesn’t matter whether a vote was cast for or against a candidate, it only matters how that vote was cast, and right now Donald Trump is down nationally by about nine points and battleground polls point to a thumping Electoral College loss. The “most important factor” in the campaign is who wins, and Trump isn’t winning.

If we want to look at an important factor for why Trump isn’t winning, it might be that he has a substantial favorability deficit.

Second, because Trump voters don’t dislike Biden as much as Biden voters dislike Trump, Biden actually has an advantage in net enthusiasm (calculated as the difference between a candidate’s “very favorable” and “very unfavorable” rating).

As a competent and loyal vice-president to the wildly popular Barack Obama, Biden certainly has his fans within the Democratic base, but he has nothing like a cult following. It’s only when you combine strong Biden supporters with people who hate Trump with the fire of a thousand suns that you discover the enthusiasm advantage. On the other side, you have MAGA lunatics and some reluctant single-issue voters, but not a lot of genuine Biden haters.

This is why we’re seeing people like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham attack “the Squad” rather than Biden. He’s on the record saying that Biden is the nicest man he’s met in politics, so he criticizes him for being a puppet of “socialists” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That’s just not that convincing or scary to most folks.

So, yes, about twice as many Trump supporters say that they’re really jazzed to cast a vote for him as say the same about Biden on the other side, but it remains Biden who has the advantage.

If there’s some support for Trump that isn’t being detected in the polls, it’s not enthusiasm that explains it. It’s probable that a lot of people are simply ashamed to admit that their desire for abortion restrictions or lower taxes or more oil drilling is enough to make them support the president’s reelection. There are definitely some folks in this category, but are there enough?

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com