Conventional wisdom — and history — tells us that the party that controls the White House are always less enthusiastic about voting than the opposition. But the most recent Gallup poll on voter enthusiasm tells a different story.
“Currently, about two in three Republicans (66%) and Democrats (65%) report being more excited about voting than they were in previous elections. This differs from the typical pattern Gallup has seen over the years, whereby those who identify with the political party of the incumbent president have been less enthusiastic about voting than members of the opposing party,” said Gallup.
That it’s even that close is a shocker.
As Democratic President Bill Clinton was preparing to leave office, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to express greater fervor for voting — by 12 percentage points in both polls Gallup took leading up to the 2000 election.
This partisan gap was present throughout 2008 when Republican President George W. Bush’s term was ending: Democrats were more likely to report an increase in their enthusiasm for voting than Republicans in all nine polls Gallup conducted that year.
And during both elections when Democratic President Barack Obama was in office, Democrats expressed less enthusiasm for voting than Republicans. This was true during Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 as well as in the election to replace him in 2016 — though the partisan gap narrowed just before Election Day 2016.
A recent CNN poll shows enthusiasm for the incumbent Trump is almost unprecedented.
And as new data from CNN shows, we’re seeing historic levels of enthusiasm right now. Currently 88 percent of registered voters responding to the poll in question are enthusiastic in varying degrees about voting in the 2020 presidential election; only 11 percent are not. Of the enthused super-majority, 47 percent describe themselves as extremely enthusiastic and 24 percent as very enthusiastic. Taking the “extremely” and “very” enthusiastic voters together, that’s 71 percent currently. In late October 2016, the comparable number was 46 percent (though in September 2015 it was a bit higher at 55 percent, indicating that a decent number of voters weren’t happy with the general-election options; usually enthusiasm goes up as an election approaches). At this point in the 2012 cycle, 51 percent of voters described themselves as “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic.
While there’s no guarantee that the enthusiasm will translate into turnout, this time might be different:
CNN’s cross-tabs break down the enthusiasm numbers in all sorts of ways, but here’s the one that matters most: 79 percent of registered voters who give Trump a positive job-approval rating are either “extremely” (53 percent) or “very” (26 percent) enthusiastic about voting in 2020. Among registered voters who disapprove of Trump, 66 percent are “extremely” (43 percent) or “very” (23 percent) enthused. All the other cross-tabs tell a similar story: White folks are more enthusiastic about voting than nonwhite folks; old folks are more psyched than young folks; Republicans are more whipped up than Democrats.
The Republican base is poised to stick it to the Democrats. And while there were some worrying signs in Tuesday’s election, particularly in the GOP strongholds of the suburbs, enthusiasm for Trump may very well carry him to re-election.
Whether he can drag the rest of the GOP to victory is another matter. In some ways, Trump’s popularity transcends party and attracts independents who rarely vote. The Trump campaign’s plan is to energize those who seldom vote and drive them to the polls, which may give Trump the victory but probably won’t help Republicans that much.
We saw much the same when Obama ran for re-election. He concentrated his efforts on turning out supporters who didn’t vote for him in 2008, which carried him to an electoral college win. Meanwhile, the Democrats lost ground all over the country.Trump could easily do the same, given the anger felt by many of his supporters at efforts to impeach him.
Democrats should recall a basic political lesson; angry people vote.