The Diminishing Marginal Return of Voting for Barack Obama

Any explanation of the 2008 election cycle has to include the large intensity gap between Democratic and Republican voters. After eight years of George W. Bush, Democrats were eager to vote against a Republican, and excited to vote for Barack Obama. And while 2008 was Obama’s election to lose, the huge level of Democratic enthusiasm contributed to his unlikely wins in Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana.

With all of that said, there’s a chance that the tables have turned for 2012. The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib explains:

In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, voters were asked whether they were more or less enthusiastic than usual about the 2012 election. A majority of Republicans, 56%, said they were more enthusiastic. By contrast, only 43% of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic. Other readings from the poll produced the same kind of picture of a fired-up Republican base and a more lethargic Democratic one.

Among conservatives, 59% said that they were more enthusiastic than usual; among liberals, the number was just 38%. Among those who voted for Sen. McCain in 2008, 57% reported more enthusiasm this time. Among those who voted for Mr. Obama, the reading was 41%.

For comparison’s sake, the 2010 congressional elections saw an enthusiasm gap of 5 to 7 points – enough to hand Republicans a landslide victory in the House of Representatives. Of course, with a little less than a year before the election, it’s too early to make any sure predictions about the eventual enthusiasm gap. Despite their dislike for Obama, it’s possible that tepid support for their nominee could depress enthusiasm among Republican voters. Likewise, combination of Republican extremism, economic growth, and renewed confidence in President Obama could rouse Democrats out of their slumber, and put the party on more competitive footing.

Either way, it’s safe to say that if these numbers don’t improve for Democrats, they can look forward to an extremely painful 2012.

Image used under a Creative Commons License courtesy Thirty30 Photography


I won't claim to have researched the data in relation to enthusiasm, but I am cautious about making assumptions about a Presidential election from a midterm election - a great many people only vote every four years.

Voter Turnout:
2004 - 123,535,883
2006 - 85,724,135
2008 - 132,645,504
2010 - 90,682,968

I would not be surprised if the enthusiasm gap has a much more significant impact during midterm elections, when baseline motivation to vote is lower for much of the population.

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