It’s a long way to November. But when it comes to voter enthusiasm, that principle cuts both ways.
Republicans, three years removed from controlling the White House and almost universally opposed to President Obama, were extremely motivated during the 2010 midterms, and were looking to continue that momentum going into the presidential election. And they were — up until the GOP primary process began.
The good news for Republicans is that pollsters still identify President Obama as a turnout vehicle on both sides of the asile, which means that no matter who the candidate is, they will likely have high turnout to simply vote him out of office. The bad news is that at a time when the party is supposed to be rallying around a strong nominee heading into the spring, they seem to be accepting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as that standard bearer, and the numbers show they aren’t excited about it.
Check out the chart below of CNN’s measure of enthusiasm by party. Republicans were excited over the summer of 2011 as candidates were getting their campaigns together and the potential to beat President Obama, whose approval ratings began to suffer greatly over that time when Washington was gripped by the debt ceiling fight, was at a high. But as the Republican primary process began, the party faithful have become less fervent, and Democrats have caught up.
Gallup noticed the same trend. Except their data shows more specific movement — President Obama’s supporters have remained fairly flat on enthusiasm, while Romney’s fans have dropped off over time, showing a clear connection between the overall level of enthusiasm and Romney as the Republican presidential candidate.
Now, the numbers certainly show disappointing news for team Romney, but they also have the time to climb back. They’ve been through a difficult primary process in which their candidate has been attacked by his Republican rivals and by President Obama’s campaign. The Romney squad will certainly be able to bring around more Republicans when Romney finally seals the nomination and the party turns to their focus to beating Obama.
But the overall enthusiasm numbers are certainly no welcome sign — this was an election where the prolonged recession was supposed to give the Republican candidate a major boost heading into to peak election season, and currently it looks like the President and the former governor will start on equal footing. And given their previous political positioning, having to regain the fire within the party means they’ve forefited a natural advantage.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.