Gallup released some poll results today that are dramatic but also deserve some words of caution. The topic covered was voter enthusiasm. The first data set details enthusiasm among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
At first glance these results are quite striking–a drop from 79% in the last presidential election year to 45% today speaks volumes about how disenchanted even liberal voters are with Obama. However, it also seems to prove that asking about enthusiasm is a vague question and one that is hard to draw conclusions from. Note that 45% still means that almost half of the left is more excited to vote next year than they were in 2008 when Obama rode a wave of hope and change fever into office. I scarcely believe that is possible. So while the relative change is telling, the absolute value is hard to rationalize.
The view of Republicans is quite different. I’ll note the oddity that Gallup didn’t include the enthusiasm of Republican-leaning independent voters. That is a rather significant omission in that is the exact group that could likely decide the election. The impact of conservative independents who just didn’t find the energy to go vote for McCain that show up to vote against Obama will be critical.
While these results are definitely more positive, note that conservative enthusiasm has remained basically flat since 2009. I would suggest this stems from the fact that no charismatic front runner has emerged yet. While Perry and Romney are viable candidates (and certainly a better fit than McCain was), neither has yet to truly fire up the base. That situation is likely to change once one candidate is selected and the anyone in the Anyone-But-Obama has been identified.
In an effort to analyze the data sets, Gallup also provided a view contrasting the net enthusiasm of both sides.
Lydia Saad at Gallup notes:
While Gallup has not been able to establish a statistical link between heightened enthusiasm and greater turnout in past elections, the party with the enthusiasm advantage generally tends to fare better. Given that President Obama’s job approval rating continues to hover around 40% and that he appears vulnerable in the general election, it is not surprising that Democrats are currently less enthusiastic than Republicans about voting in 2012. However, should this pattern continue well into next year, it could be an important indicator of which way the election will go.
I will note that the Republican advantage now is the same as it was in 2000 when the election could not have been closer. So the caution that an advantage in enthusiasm doesn’t guarantee a victory is well warranted. But the trending of the data certainly suggests a significant advantage for Republicans in 2012.