News & Politics

Are Experts Underestimating the Impact of the 'Enthusiasm Gap' on the Vote?

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

We’ve been covering the “enthusiasm gap” for months trying to gauge what it means for the election. That there is a gap, no one disputes. Some polls have enthusiasm for Trump at all-time highs while enthusiasm for Biden is at near all-time lows.

That’s very encouraging, but what does it mean in the practical political universe? Of course, it points to an enthusiastic turnout for Trump on Election Day but is it enough to significantly impact the election?

Pollsters are paid by politicians running for office to measure this kind of thing, but in the end, no one can really say. But Democrats aren’t taking any chances. They are pushing mail-in ballots for the simple reason that few if any voters are enthusiastic about Biden and they can’t be trusted to get all bundled up, go outside, and make it to the polling place on Election Day. Now, voters don’t even have to leave their houses.

How enthusiastic do you have to be to sit at the kitchen table, fill out your ballot, and drop it in the mail?

So measuring the impact of enthusiasm for Trump on the vote is difficult. All we’ve really got are anecdotes and media reports. And some of them are astonishing.

New York Post:

As Ryan’s boat joined at least 2,000 other watercraft for the Trump Law and Order Boat Parade, the same scene was playing out in dozens of harbors, rivers and lakes from the Jersey Shore to San Diego that Labor Day weekend.

One week later, on Sept. 12, more than 16,000 cars, pickups, motorcycles and semis festooned with banners and bunting jammed Cincinnati’s I-275 beltway in a convoy that looped through three states, one of several Trump car caravans being organized on Facebook. Meanwhile, an unknown fan in Norwell, Mass., stenciled “Trump 2020” in bright yellow letters across the travel lanes of busy Route 3 (Highway crews quickly painted over the message.)

It’s an enthusiasm that borders on fanaticism. That can’t be good for Biden.

Just 46 percent of Biden voters in a recent Pew poll said that they strongly support him, compared to 66 percent of Trump’s base.

Rank-and-file Dems are sounding the alarm.

“I look out over my Biden sign in my front yard and I see a sea of Trump flags and yard signs,” Pennsylvania voter Susan Connors told Biden worriedly at a CNN-sponsored town hall Sept. 17.

The experts will tell you that yard signs don’t vote. But the enthusiastic volunteers who go door to door asking their neighbors if they can put a “Trump” sign in their yard do. That’s got to count for something. And in some critical swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, Biden’s reliance on a “digital campaign” may do him in. “In one of the most important swing states in the country, Biden’s campaign is all but invisible to the naked eye,” Time magazine reported.

It may trigger a replay of 2016 when Trump enthusiasm outpolled Hillary Clinton’s by 13 points. Now it’s 20. Do we see a pattern?

“In the Trump era, there’s a lot of social pressure not to identify as a Trump supporter,” said Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who runs the Instapundit politics blog. “When people brave that pressure, it can gather its own momentum” — touching off what’s known as a preference cascade.

“A preference cascade happens when you have a lot of people concealing their true beliefs because of social or government pressure,” explained Reynolds, who has studied the phenomenon. “They keep concealing their feelings until something triggers them to see they’re not alone.

Could the old-fashioned political tactic of inundating neighborhoods with yard signs actually act as a catalyst to let silent Trump voters know they’re not alone and that it’s safe to vote for him?

One thing is sure: observers like myself who have been covering politics for more than 40 years continue to be astonished by the enthusiasm for Trump by people who never cared about a political candidate before. We still don’t know how much impact it will have on the election outcome. That it counts for something is undeniable.