(GallUP) – Democrats are significantly less likely now (39%) than they were in the summers of 2004 and 2008 to say they are “more enthusiastic about voting than usual” in the coming presidential election.
These results are based on a July 19-22 USA Today/Gallup poll. They suggest a shift in Republicans’ and Democrats’ orientation to voting in the coming presidential election compared with the last two, with Republicans expressing more voting enthusiasm. The current 51% to 39% Republican advantage in voter enthusiasm is slightly larger than the 53% to 45% GOP advantage Gallup measured in February of this year.
The voting enthusiasm measure gives a sense of Americans’ motivation to turn out and vote but probably also their expectations of their preferred party’s chances of winning. Thus, the Republican advantage may indicate a greater likelihood of voting among Republicans but also greater optimism about a Republican victory than was the case in 2008. In turn, Democrats are probably less optimistic about their chances of winning than they were in 2008.
Gallup has found a relationship between voting enthusiasm and the outcome of midterm congressional elections, with the party that has the advantage generally faring better in the elections. That pattern also held in the 2008 presidential election, with Democrats reporting greater enthusiasm throughout the year and Barack Obama winning the election. The 2004 data provided less guidance as to the eventual winner, as the Republicans (68%) and Democrats (67%) had similar scores at the time of the election, which George W. Bush won narrowly.
Voter Enthusiasm Down Among All Americans
Overall, Americans’ voting enthusiasm this year has lagged behind what it was in 2004 and 2008. The current level of enthusiasm is down slightly from what it was in the summer of 2008, but that followed a significant drop after the 2008 primaries, from 62% to 48%. Voting enthusiasm began to pick up again in the fall of 2008, and by the time of the 2008 election it was similar to 2004 levels.
The decline in voter enthusiasm this year is consistent with Gallup’s finding that self-reported likelihood to vote is lower compared with the fall of 2004 and 2008.
With voter enthusiasm down significantly from 2004 and 2008 levels, it is reasonable to expect that turnout will be lower this presidential election than in the last two elections, both of which had above-average turnout from a historical perspective.
Republicans’ greater enthusiasm about voting is a troubling sign for the Obama campaign, especially given the fact that registered voters are essentially tied in their presidential voting preferences and that Republicans historically vote at higher rates than Democrats do.
However, Democrats’ depressed enthusiasm may be influenced by the comparatively tough re-election battle the president is facing, likely due to the state of the economy and Americans’ generally sour mood. So it may be that Democrats will still vote in large numbers but are just not as excited about doing so as they were in the last two elections.
Lower Democratic enthusiasm at this point could also indicate that Democrats have not fully tuned in to the campaign, which is possible, given the lack of a Democratic nomination contest this year as there was on the Republican side. If that indeed is a factor, Democrats’ enthusiasm may pick up steam in the fall after the Democratic convention. But if Democrats do not close the enthusiasm gap between now and Election Day, it would put Obama’s re-election chances in serious jeopardy.