In June 2007, as the economy was starting to stumble and the war in Iraq dragged on, CNN and its polling partner ORC asked Americans how enthusiastic they were to vote in the next year’s presidential election.
With then-President George W. Bush’s approval rating in the low 30s, one would have expected Americans to be historically enthusiastic about choosing a new direction for the country. According to CNN’s poll, a quarter of registered voters polled said they were extremely enthusiastic about the election, and another quarter said they were very enthusiastic. Extrapolating outward, that gives us a bit over half the country that was very enthusiastic about the contest.
CNN and its new polling partner SSRS asked the same question in a poll released Monday. Now, more than 4 in 10 registered voters say they’re extremely enthusiastic about voting in 2020 — and 7 in 10 say they’re very enthusiastic, at a minimum. Those numbers are higher than at the equivalent point in any of the previous three presidential cycles.
That enthusiasm isn’t equivalent between the parties. Nearly half of registered Democrats, 47 percent, say that they’re extremely enthusiastic about voting next year, compared to 40 percent of Republicans. That Democratic figure is larger than any measurement at the same point from either party since 2007, according to CNN’s data. It’s worth noting, too, that the percentage of Republicans saying they’re extremely enthusiastic is also larger than any prior measurement at this point.
We saw a similar effect before the 2018 midterms, when both parties were much more motivated to vote than they had been in prior midterm cycles. Those elections, you probably recall, went largely in the Democrats’ direction.
Notice on the chart above, though, that the gap between the two parties was wider in June 2011 than it is now, with Republicans having a significant advantage at that point. Of course that didn’t prevent Barack Obama from winning reelection.
So what happened? Enthusiasm shifted over the course of the campaign. If we looked at the combined percentage of those saying they were “very” or “extremely” enthusiastic over the course of the campaign, Republicans had an advantage until the primaries began. Republican enthusiasm dropped and, as Election Day approached, enthusiasm among both parties increased in tandem.
There’s another aspect to the 2012 cycle that’s worth noting. While Republican enthusiasm was higher at this point in that cycle than it had been in 2008, turnout in the election was down from four years prior. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, got slightly more votes than Sen. John McCain of Arizona had four years prior, but only barely. Romney struggled to secure the nomination that year, repeatedly fending off challenges from candidates who surged past him in national polls.
One can read into that as much as one wishes. Democratic enthusiasm about ousting Trump has been a potent topic of discussion so far in the 2020 cycle. Whether that enthusiasm wanes or surges once the Democrats choose a nominee remains to be seen.