Elections are all about intensity. People who are excited about their candidate — or excited to send a message to the other guy or gal — are much more likely to vote.
Just 45 percent of Democrats say they are more enthusiastic about voting for president in 2012 than they have been in past elections while 44 percent described themselves as less enthusiastic.
Nearly six in ten Republicans (58 percent), on the other hand, call themselves more enthusiastic about voting in 2012 than in past races while just 30 percent say they are less excited about the election to come than elections in the past.
The current disparity between Democratic and Republican enthusiasm is the largest measured in Gallup data since 2000 and is a massive departure from the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election when Democrats held an intensity advantage of forty points or more.
“Democrats’ current enthusiasm about voting is not only lower than it was in 2008, but lower than in 2004, when Republican George W. Bush won re-election,” wrote Gallup’s Lydia Saad in a memo detailing the results.
The numbers closely correlate with several recent developments in the political world.
Democrats’ loss in a special House election in New York’s 9th district — a seat that clearly favored their side — earlier this month was attributed, in large part, to a lack of intensity in the party base.
And, after spending the past 11 months courting independents with a compromise-focused agenda, President Obama has made a clear pivot to targeting the Democratic base in recent weeks with a message that now is the time to start getting excited about the next election.
Looking for a silver lining in the numbers for Democrats?
The election is still more than a year away, meaning that President Obama and Democratic party leaders still have time to re-energize their party’s base.
And, once the Republican nominee becomes clear, Democrats will be better able to cast the election as a choice between the policies advocated by President Obama and those advocated by the GOP standard-bearer, a contrast that should — and we emphasize should — help get Democrats more excited about the 2012 race and its stakes.
Intensity is a tough thing to simply create in politics, however. All of the phone calls, direct mail pieces and television ads in the world can’t make voters excited if they aren’t.
And, an intensity gap like the one in the Gallup numbers has to be concerning for Democrats hoping to not only re-elect President Obama in 2012 but so keep control of the Senate and win back the U.S. House. Closing it will be the central battle of the coming months for the party.