For example, take voter enthusiasm polls. For myself, enthusiasm is pretty much irrelevant. I go out and vote regardless of how stoked I am about it in any particular cycle. Using myself as a model, voter enthusiasm would be a meaningless stat. But other people apparently react differently to their own enthusiasm. The polls really do seem to reflect the final turnout.
Which is why a new Gallup poll must have Republicans feeling a little uneasy. When respondents were asked, "Thinking ahead to the election for president next year, compared to previous elections, are you more enthusiastic than usual, or less enthusiastic?" 49% of "Republicans and independents who lean Republican" reported being more enthusiastic. This compares well with the 44% of Democrats and dem leaners who say the same.
And it's at this point that the good news ends for the GOP. Their enthusiasm has dropped nearly 10% from September, when it was at 58%. Call it the "clown show effect."
Republicans' enthusiasm about voting has dropped and, as a result, the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has narrowed significantly. This marks a change from the decided enthusiasm advantage Republicans enjoyed just two months ago and in last year's midterm elections.
The decrease in Republicans' enthusiasm could reflect the intensive and bruising battle for the GOP nomination going on within the party, and the rapid rise and fall of various candidates in the esteem of rank-and-file Republicans nationwide. Once the Republican nominee is determined next year, Republicans' voting enthusiasm may steady, but whether this is at a high, medium, or low level remains to be seen.
So this may be the low point, after which it rises again. But if Gallup is right and this is the result of candidate skirmishing and the embarrassing spectacle of candidates like Herman Cain, then that seems unlikely.
Gingrich is a disaster waiting to happen. So far, the press has gone relatively easy on his past and Newt's benefited from that. But once people start doing oppo-research, they won't have a lot of trouble digging up dirt. In fact, "digging" is probably the wrong word -- it's all so public that "fetching" is probably better. Want the juicy details? Just go to Wikipedia.
And then there's Mitt Romney. Romney may not be the ethics nightmare that Gingrich embodies, but it's pretty clear that he's Republican voters' Plan B. They intensely dislike his finger-in-the-wind approach to politics and policy and don't trust him -- perhaps rightly -- to remain as conservative as he pretends to be. Romney's like that weird, space-saving spare tire -- not a good fit, unreliable, but when you need it you'll use it. It'll get you were you need to go, but you don't want to ride on it forever. If he gets to the White House, Republicans will wind up riding on that tire for four years until they get a chance to replace it.
These are most likely the two biggest contenders for nominee -- a train wreck and a flip-flopper. Who's left in the not-Romney category who hasn't already been cycled out? Rick Santorum, who's just plain mean, and Jon Huntsman, who's the sort of politician that Republicans fear Romney secretly to be. Ron Paul? I just don't see it. Legalizing drugs and prostitution alone counts him out, as does cutting aid to Israel.
The impression that Republicans have a weak field this cycle is entirely accurate. There's no one to get excited about here. Republican voters seem to have spent a lot of enthusiasm energy on Herman Cain, who was a doomed candidate even before we found out he was a serial sexual harasser and an adulterer. He was obviously unprepared and unserious.
Frankly, I don't see GOP enthusiasm improving much as time goes on. I could be wrong -- predictions have a bad habit of coming back and biting you from behind. But right now, things look pretty downward-oriented for the GOP. Meanwhile, Democrats have a chance to get economic populism behind them -- and they're taking it. They seem to be taking GOP talking points by the horns, giving Democratic voters something to fight. Want to get voters to the polls? Give them something to be against. Some voters will always hold their noses and vote for more of the same, but more will vote against something with relish.
We'll see how things pan out in the long run, but at the moment, things seem to be turning Democrats' way.