Will Enthusiasm Decide the Election (II)?

Back in May, Howellis wrote a post with the same title, noting that Republicans he knew seemed a lot more enthusiastic this year.

Our recent experiment found that Romney’s ads didn’t shift vote preferences much at all, but they did have a big impact on enthusiasm among McCain ’08 voters.

There have been a number of stories recently noting the surge in enthusiasm, measured by the polls and the crowds for the Romney/Ryan ticket. But it’s even more heartening when we compare the partisan state of mind in 2012 compared to 2008.

In 2008 at this time, Obama led McCain on likely voters who were very enthusiastic by 35 points, 66 percent to 31 percent. 

Romney, on the other hand, now leads the President by 2 points on this and has double McCain’s percentage of very enthusiastic supporters, 62 to 31.

That’s a shockingly large shift in enthusiasm between 2008 and 2012, with Romney literally doubling high enthusiasm among supporters of the Republican ticket. Obama, for his part, has seen the percentage of his supporters who are very enthusiastic decline by almost 10 percent compared with likely voters at this time in 2008. And the slide is even worse when we look at all registered voters, where the highest level of enthusiasm for the President has fallen 13 percent since 2008.

Obama should be very, very concerned about this trend compared with 2008, especially with Romney closing the gap or edging ahead overall and in crucial battleground states. A lot more Republican voters look like they’re excited and determined to turn out this year.

And Romney should take a look at these two charts from our Ad War PocketTrial for a lesson in what a really effective ad can do to enthusiasm among likely Republican and Democratic supporters.

McCain-voting women respond in a huge way to a one-two economic attack on Obama’s record and details on Romney’s plans for the economy. McCain-voting men do as well, but not as much, and the ads seem to sap the enthusiasm among Obama ’08 voting men. They should target this to female-dominated shows and websites.

The ad that really motivates men is the Americans For Prosperity “Disappointed” ad. Although the “Disappointed” ad won focus-groups as a video that would shift swing voters and appeal to women, the “Disappointed” ad doesn’t seem to move votes or female enthusiasm at all. Instead, the Disappointed” ad increases high enthusiasm among male McCain ’08 voters by 31 points from 33 in the Control group to 64 percent – a nearly 95 percent increase in the highest level of enthusiasm. The ad also decreases high enthusiasm among male Obama ’08 voters by 21 points from 46 to 24 percent – a decline of more than 45 percent in the highest level of enthusiasm.

The “Disappointed” ad is a terrible soft-edged appeal to swing voters, but seems very effective red-meat for male voters in Romney’s base and a big old downer for male Obama ’08 voters. In fact, when you look across all the ad impacts, it appears that male Obama supporters are really vulnerable on the enthusiasm front and can be relatively easily knocked out of the electorate.


Considering the huge impact this ad has on both Obama and likely Romney supporters, the Romney campaign should buy up all the NFL ad time that’s left and run this in a continual loop. Plaster it all over sports websites. Hit every TV show with a broad-based, male-dominated audience. They won’t win many, if any, voters. But a lot more Republican men will probably show up on Election Day — and a lot fewer Democratic men will turn up at the polls. 

  1. tabula rasa

    Adam:  I just checked the new Gallup number from its seven-day rolling average.  Among registered voters, Romney leads 48-46.  Among likely voters Romney now leads 51-45.

    That sounds like an enthusiasm gap advantage for Romney.

  2. Adam Schaeffer

    tabula rasa: Really interesting to see this play out . . . pre-debate the race was Obama 49/45, and the first 7-day completely after the debate was 49/45 as well. The decline over the last week was slow but steady, and seems to have picked up momentum this week.

    You just can’t buy that kind of lopsided coverage in the media and I’d imagine pretty widespread discussion of the Denver Debacle by regular citizens. 

    I think you’re right on the enthusiasm; you get a 6-point lead in Likely Voters and only a 2-point lead with Registered voters when your supporters are a lot more determined to show up.

  3. Schrodinger

    What decides elections is:

    1) a likable candidate;

    2) who articulates good policies or has a good record to run on;

    3) a good ground game (GOTV).

    The enthusiasm gap is an indicator of how the two candidates are doing in point #2. BO has no record to run on and Romney is able to articulate his policies well.

    In 2008, BO beat McCain on all three points. In 2012, #1 is a tie and #2 favors Romney. How #3 turns out remains to be seen, but enthusiasm can make up somewhat for an inferior GOTV.