The months leading leading up to election we kept hearing about “the enthusiasm” gap, a vague figure that was used to predict who was going to vote and who was staying home. Just like almost every other polling number and every pollster had their own way of determining who was excited about the mid-term election. It was that enthusiasm gap prediction of the Gallup organization that ramped up GOP excitement just before the election.
Nate Silver of the NY Times came up with another way to look at the enthusiasm gap. His interesting method doesn’t tie it to party affiliation, but directly to their support of President Obama. He compared the actual presidential vote in 2008 to the presidential candidate for whom Tuesday’s voters claimed they had voted, according to exit polls.
Nationally, for instance, Tuesday night’s voters told exit pollsters that they had split their vote 45-45 between Barack Obama and John McCain (some said they had voted for a third-party candidate or had not voted at all.) Since Mr. Obama won the election by about 7 points nationally in 2008, this would again point toward an enthusiasm gap in the 5-7 point range that we have been describing.
There are wide differences, however when you take a look at the figures on a state by state basis.
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Exit polls were conducted in 26 states (mostly, where there were competitive Senate contests). The largest enthusiasm gap came in New Hampshire. There, Tuesday night’s voters claimed to have voted for John McCain by a 4-point margin, when in fact Barack Obama won the state by 10 points. That’s a 14-point enthusiasm gap.
The next largest enthusiasm gap came in Indiana; the electorate there shifted from having favored Mr. Obama by 1 point in 2008 to Mr. McCain by 10 points: an 11-point gap.
The enthusiasm gap was 10 points in Nevada, and 9 points in Iowa. It was 8 points in Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois.
What do these states have in common? Other than Illinois, which is Mr. Obama’s home state, all the others were key presidential swing states in 2008. In fact, there is nearly a one-to-one correspondence between 2008 swing states (which are shaded in the chart below) and those where the enthusiasm gap was largest:
The finding also reflect that the states that weren’t very competitive in 2008 (no mater what candidate they favored) did not have an “enthusiasm gap” in 2010 (like Vermont and Hawaii which went heavily for Obama or Texas and Arkansas which were strong for McCain.
Silver contends that the reason for the the difference is Obama’s great GOTV effort in 2008 especially in the m ore competitive states. Therefore these numbers would not suggest a threat for Obama in 2012
I would offer another suggestion. Perhaps it is those states that generated the most passion for the 2008 race, where the Obama supporters had to fight the hardest are the most disappointed, thus more likely to stay home. Perhaps the enthusiasm gap is really a disappointment gap. If that is the case, this election foreshadows big problems for the President in 2012.