With the election now less than 50 days away, enthusiasm within the two party bases is the widely being cast as the name of the game. To win on November 6, the argument goes, both President Obama and Mitt Romney need turnout to be gangbusters from within their own party bases -- and the best gauge of who is going to turn out has historically been which side is more excited/enthusiastic about voting.
For months, Republicans have enjoyed an enthusiasm edge -- largely attributed to the fact that they are the party without control of the White House and whose base is animated by a deep-seated distaste for the current president.
But now there are seemingly conflicting data points surrounding the enthusiasm gap -- or lack thereof -- between the two parties.
New numbers from a Gallup poll of 2012 swing states suggest that not only have self-identified Democrats grown significantly more enthusiastic about voting this fall but that their level of excitement now surpasses that of Republicans.
Here's that data in chart form:
At the same time, there is other data that suggests that among that slice of THE most enthusiastic slice of the electorate Romney still enjoys an advantage.
In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this week, President Obama led Romney 50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters nationwide. But, among those considered the likeliest of the likely to vote -- those who on a scale of 1-10 in terms of voter intention described themselves as either a "9" or a "10" -- Romney takes 49 percent to 46 percent for Obama.
Here's a look at that data in chart form:
Which one of these two charts more accurately represents what's happening in the electorate? Both.
Clearly Democrats have grown more enthusiastic about voting since this summer -- the almost-certain result of the party's successful national convention earlier this month.
It is also true that among the likeliest of the likely voters Romney retains a slight edge over Obama due to the fact that the people trying to win something back are almost always more fired up to do it than the people who are just trying to hold on to what they have. (Sidebar: That same phenomenon is why it's so hard to repeat as champions in a sport.)
Focusing on the relative enthusiasm of the two party bases may well be something of a moot point in the end. It's hard to imagine that in a presidential election where so much money has been spent on both sides and so much vitriol has been slung (if you can sling vitriol, that is) that the bases of both parties won't be wildly fired up to vote.
Of course if the election winds up coming down to a single percentage point nationally or in a handful of swing states, a slightly more enthusiastic party base could make a difference. In close elections, small margins are big deals.