“Enthusiasm Gap” Closing

Poll numbers come and poll numbers go. McCain/Palin are now enjoying an expected convention bounce which has put them, depending on which poll you consult, anywhere from 2 points to 10 points ahead.

But that’s going to change as we continue to move toward the election. That means it’s a little early to put too much significance in those numbers at this point. If McCain/Palin show the ability to sustain those numbers, well then that’s a horse of a different color.

Rather than the numbers about who is ahead at this time, the numbers which interest me most have to do with what I consider the more fundamental problem that the Republicans face.

Enthusiasm.

While John McCain has a compelling biography of sacrifice while in the military, ideologically he has not generated much enthusiasm for his candidacy. The Democrats, on the other hand, have been very enthusiastic about their pick.

Enter the game changer: the nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. Suddenly the right is paying attention, and if the latest Gallup numbers are true, they’ve found a reason to be enthusiatic about their ticket:

The convention and/or McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate not only had the effect of moving the horserace needle in McCain’s direction, but also increased several measures of enthusiasm for the GOP.

There has been a very substantial jump in the percentage of Republicans saying they are more enthusiastic about voting in this election, from 42% a week ago (after the Democratic convention, but before the Republican convention) to 60% today. Democrats still retain a slight lead on this measure, having increased their enthusiasm slightly this last week as well. But the enthusiasm gap, which has been so much a part of the story of the presidential election so far this year, has dwindled from 19 points in the Democrats’ favor a week ago to only seven points today.

Now that’s significant, much more significant than the present poll numbers. Enthusiasm is infectious. It also means other things that are vital to a campaign. Contributions. Volunteers. GOTV efforts. Grassroots organizing and campaigning. Things that have led to Republican victories in the past.

So while the poll numbers have to cause a little concern among the Democrats, they know these will change as the campaign goes on. But the numbers showing the closing of the enthusiasm gap have to be much more worrying to the Dems than the other numbers. A enthused and motivated political opponent is a much tougher one to win against vs. an opponent who is, for all intents and purposes, just going through the motions.

I think Republicans have stolen a step on the Dems. And I think they’re in the middle of stealing the “change” theme from them as well. There is building enthusiasm among not only the base, but independents as well. And women, much to the Dems chagrin, are taking a second look as well.

Palin will be doing a series of interviews in the very near future that I think are going to be key to further closing this gap. It is very important that she do well (and I think she will). Like it or not, she is the impetus behind this rise in the polls and closing of the enthusiasm gap. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone new to the national scene. If she again rises to the occasion, she may steal all the remaining air from the Obama/Biden ticket.

I hate to use the term, but she’s the new rockstar in town. And there is nothing worse – when a new rockstar shows up – than being the old rockstar.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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