Thursday, September 30, 2004


The silliness of polls: The "enthusiasm gap"

The Washington Post carries an article today by Richard Morin and Christopher Muste called "The Enthusiasm Gap." It begins,
Forget the gender gap. The chasm that yawns the widest this election year is the Enthusiasm Gap.

Nearly two in three likely voters who support President Bush -- 65 percent -- said they were "very enthusiastic" about their candidate while 42 percent of Sen. John F. Kerry's supporters express similarly high levels of enthusiasm for their choice, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

That's a 23-point difference in relative excitement. Although the polling record is incomplete for earlier elections, the available data suggest that the enthusiasm gap in the 2000 presidential campaign was negligible, at best.

First, about the 2000 election. Neither Bush nor Gore was the incumbent; neither had a record as President to run for or against. I would have expected enthusiasm from their supporters to be closely matched.

But 2004 should not be compared with 2000 for a number of reasons, but principally because George Bush is the incumbent.

But the authors just can't let it go.

Bush's conservative base is broadly enthusiastic about the president while political liberals are noticeably cooler to Kerry. Among registered voters, nearly seven in 10 self-described conservative supporters of Bush say they're enthusiastic about the president. But four in 10 liberals -- 43 percent -- express similar levels of excitement about Kerry.

This enthusiasm gap extends to political moderates as well. Nearly half of Bush's moderate supporters are energized about their candidate, compared to a third of Kerry's moderate base.

They also find the "enthusiasm gap" among blacks and women.

None of this surprises me, nor should it discourage Kerry voters—which is what the Post is effectively trying to do here.

The pollsters asked the wrong question. Instead of asking how enthusiastic people are for the candidate for whom they intend to vote, the pollsters should have asked people how enthusiastic they are about keeping the other candidate out of office. And let me add that this question makes a lot more sense in an election that pits an incumbent against a newcomer.

Since they didn't ask the proper question, we will never know the result. But I can tell you anecdotally that there are a lot of people who are not "enthusiastic" for Kerry but who would walk through hot coals to vote against George Bush. I myself have been toughening up my feet for months.

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