Republicans say their voters are ready to run through walls to vote for Mitt Romney, or at the very least, vote against President Obama. Does that matter?
An analysis from Resurgent Republic, the center-right political organization that is officially non-partisan, argued that Republican excitement will give the GOP an edge in the fall. “Republican-leaning voting blocs are more enthusiastic to vote this November, which could be the deciding factor in a turnout election,” Resurgent wrote, referring to the closely contested election that will put party machinery to the test. “As we head into the final campaign stretch, President Obama faces the unwelcoming reality that he must close the voter enthusiasm gap and improve his performance among key voting subgroups if he is to be successful in his bid for reelection.”
Other pollsters, like the Pew Research Center, came to the same conclusion: Republicans are strongly opposed to President Obama and are just waiting to get into the voting booth.
Yet historical data from similar electoral scenarios shows the voter enthusiasm number isn’t always a strong predictor. And one Democratic pollster from Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 campaign went a bit further:, “Don’t assume there’s connection between enthusiasm and whether people are going to vote.”
Gallup data from the Bush-Kerry battle showed the Democrat with a big advantage on enthusiasm at the same point in the campaign: Sixty-eight percent of Dems were “more enthusiastic about voting than usual” that July, versus 51 percent for Bush. But Bush went on to win re-election by 3 million votes, 50.7 percent to 48.3 percent.
“The numbers are true,” Doug Usher, formerly of Team Kerry who now works for Purple Strategies, told TPM of current Republican analysis showing they have the edge on voter excitement. “But the question becomes two things: first, what’s the historic difference there? Polls underestimate the vote versus the enthusiasm. Voter enthusiasm doesn’t mean that there will be more turnout.”
“Second, there’s going to be a million fun-with-math analysis done on both sides,” Usher said. “Obama doesn’t need to get to 53 again, he can under-perform with every group and still win.”
But that’s exactly what Resurgent Republic is getting at in its analysis — the numbers show that Obama is under-performing with most of the coalition he successfully put together in 2008 to take the White House:
He holds 53 percent support on the ballot among voters with household income less than $50k, down seven points from 2008. President Obama swept young voters (18-to-29-year-olds) by 66 to 32 percent in 2008, but this margin has been nearly cut in half, 53 to 35 percent. Typically a swing voting bloc in presidential elections, Catholic voters are clearly up for grabs, 47 to 47 percent.
Among subgroups that President Obama is likely to lose, he’s doing so by a wider margin. The president trails among white men 61 to 30 percent, a 15 point swing compared to 2008 (57 to 41 percent). His support among white non-college educated voters is also down eight points.
But Usher noted that “Obama has some give,” from his 52.9 percent to 45.7 percent victory over Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008.
“Could it [the GOP enthusiasm edge] make a difference in a turnout election? It could, but I wouldn’t rest your whole campaign on that,” he told TPM. “Voter enthusiasm is probably going to be an advantage for Republicans the whole way through. …You’re either going to win or you’re going to lose. There’s no secret poll number here.”
Pew also found that while Republicans are more excited about November, their enthusiasm for Romney himself is tepid. Republican pollster Whit Ayres, one of the co-founders of Resurgent Republic, said that division within the GOP voting bloc wasn’t actually a division at all.
“People answering the [enthusiasm] question know that Obama and Romney are the choices, and Republicans are significantly more enthusiastic than Democrats or independents,” he told TPM in an email. “Moreover, even if voters are less enthusiastic about voting for Romney, they can be incredibly enthusiastic about voting against Obama.”
And he doubled down on Resurgent’s analysis.
“Take this to the bank,” he said. “Republicans will turn out in higher proportions than Democrats come November.”
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.