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.
In an election in which turnout is key, keeping the faithful energized is one of the most critical challenges facing Kerry as he approaches the first presidential debate tonight. Not only must he convince the small number of persuadable voters who currently support Bush to switch their vote, but he also must re-energize his own supporters to ensure that they turn out on Election Day.
While the enthusiasm gap is apparent across most key voting blocks, nowhere is it more striking than in the way that political conservatives, moderates and liberals view their respective choices.
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.
Bush also has been able to fire up his partisan base more than Kerry has. Today, two-thirds of all Republican voters who support Bush say they're enthusiastic about him, a double-digit increase since June. But fewer than half -- 48 percent -- of Kerry's Democratic supporters express similar enthusiasm about their choice, up 13 points since June but down from his post-convention peak of 54 percent.
The enthusiasm gap extends to black voters, typically one of the most reliable Democratic voting groups. In two Post-ABC News surveys in September, fewer than half of blacks who back Kerry said they were very enthusiastic about him. White voters, who disproportionately favor Bush, do so with far more enthusiasm: Six in 10 white Bush voters are highly enthusiastic about their candidate.
There's a gender gap in enthusiasm -- or half of one, at least. According to the latest Post-ABC News poll, there's virtually no difference in levels of excitement among men and women who support Bush; if anything, women are a bit more enthusiastic about him. But among Kerry voters, women are 14 points more likely than men to say they're very enthusiastic about their candidate.
The most recent Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 23 to 26 among 1,204 randomly selected adults nationwide, including 969 self-identified registered voters. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
The (Other) Great Divides
The Enthusiasm Gap is not the only Great Divide in election 2004. Here are other gaps that savvy poll watchers are tracking this election year:
* The Grad-School Divide. It was an awful summer for John Kerry -- except among America's best-educated voters. Currently five in nine registered voters -- 54 percent -- who finished graduate or professional school plan to vote for Kerry compared to 40 percent who support Bush, according to the latest Post-ABC News poll. In fact, Kerry's standing among these voters improved between the end of the Democratic convention and the beginning of autumn -- one of the few groups where the Democrat apparently gained support in August.
Kerry is about as popular with the grad-school crowd now as Al Gore was four years ago. In 2000, the Democrat got 52 percent of their vote while Bush received 44 percent, according to network exit polls.
And what a difference a few degrees apparently make. Among those who attended some college but did not graduate, Bush is ahead of Kerry by 21 points.
* The Party Divide. The partisan gulf remains essentially unchanged from four years ago. Currently 91 percent of all Republicans are voting for Bush, the same proportion that voted for the president four years ago. Democrats are not quite so loyal-- 81 percent currently support Kerry, down from the 86 percent who supported Gore in 2000. Sixteen percent of all Democrats are crossing over to vote for Bush this year, up from 11 percent in 2000 while 6 percent of all Republicans currently would abandon Bush to vote for Kerry.
Among self-described independents, Bush has a slim five-point edge over Kerry, with independent men evenly split while independent women support Bush by eight points. Bush narrowly won the independent vote in 2000.
* The Gender Divide. The survey suggests that Bush leads among men and has a narrow advantage among women, an advantage that no GOP presidential candidate has enjoyed since Bush's father in 1988. Among all registered voters, just over half of all men -- 53 percent -- currently support the president while 41 percent back Kerry. But among women, Bush holds a 49 percent to 46 percent advantage. In 2000, Al Gore beat Bush by 11 percentage points among women but lost by 11 points among men.
* The Ideology Divide. More than four in five conservatives -- 81 percent -- currently support Bush while 76 percent of liberals back Kerry. That's about equal to 2000, when eight out of 10 liberals sided with Gore and an equal proportion of conservatives supported Bush. Among self-described moderates, 2004 currently looks very much like 2000: Kerry holds a five-point edge among these voters who constitute about half of the electorate.
* The Racial-Ethnic Divide. Among registered voters in our September surveys, nearly four-fifths of black voters prefer Kerry for president, with one in seven supporting Bush for reelection. Among the small number of Hispanic voters in the surveys, five in nine support Kerry with one-third favoring Bush. White registered voters split 56 to 38 percent in favor of Bush over Kerry. These are the largest demographic group differences in our surveys and are about the same size as they were in the 2000 election, when Bush won 9 percent of the black vote, 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, and 54 percent of the white vote compared to 42 percent for Gore.
* The Veterans Divide. Bush enjoys nearly a 2-1 lead among veterans and a narrower nine-point advantage among voters who live in households where at least one person is a military veteran. But among the two-thirds of households where no one served in the military, the race is virtually tied.
The differences in the vote preference of veterans depends only slightly on age, with veterans who turned 21 before 1960 giving Bush a sixteen-point advantage, compared to the 23-point gap among younger vets, the survey found. Among non-veterans, age has a similar impact. More non-veterans over 65 favored Kerry while the bulk of younger non-veterans supported Bush.
* The Generational Divide. Young voters, who gave Kerry nearly a two-to-one advantage immediately after the Democratic convention, now favor Bush by an 11-point margin. That is almost as large as the 57 to 40 percent gap Bush enjoys among 50-64 year olds. Kerry does best among 40-49 year olds and those over 65, who split their votes between the two candidates. In 2000, voters of all ages split nearly evenly, with Gore winning a slight edge among the under-30 and over-60 crowds. The voting volatility of callow youth has been noted before, so it remains to be seen if Bush can further consolidate his recent gains among them.
The Poll Vault: Our Pet Hurricane Preparedness Tip
It's a bit too late for storm-weary Florida, but here's a forecasting tip to help protect you in the future against the worst the weather has to offer, courtesy of a July 1990 Gallup survey.
Q: In your opinion, do you think pets can sense natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or violent storms, before they occur, or not?
8% No opinion
Our search of the vault revealed no more information on how exactly one might use a pet as a forecasting tool; we leave it to our readers to determine the best use of Fluffy's sensitivity to weather. Most of all, we hope all our readers and their non-human animal companions weather future storms safely.
Source: Conducted by the Gallup Organization, July 19-22, 1990, and based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,242 adults. Data were provided by The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut.