Enthusiasm gap: Dems throwing in the towel?

On the surface, the latest poll from Emerson College looks bad for Donald Trump — and perhaps even a bit deeper than the surface. After getting a rally-effect bump from the COVID-19 pandemic response in March, voters have significantly cooled off on the president’s performance. Trump’s overall approval rating went from 46/45 last month to 41/50, driven by a ten-point drop in approval for his handling of the coronavirus crisis — 39/51, down from 49/41.


Those trends do not bode well for an incumbent seeking re-election in six months. However, Emerson notices something curious about their results, which is that Joe Biden hasn’t expanded his lead despite these significant declines:

Despite Trump’s drop in approval, former Vice President Joe Biden maintains only a 6 point lead in the Presidential ballot test, 48% to 42%. This is the same numerical difference as last month’s poll, where Biden led Trump 53% to 47%. Ten-percent (10%) of voters said they were undecided, but when asked to choose a candidate they were leaning towards, undecided voters slightly broke in favor of Biden, 56% to 44%, giving Biden an additional 1 point advantage.

That seems very odd indeed, especially at this stage of the campaign. Biden should be seeing a boost as Democrats rally around their presumptive nominee. In fact, one would expect to see Biden’s numbers bounce up significantly even if Trump’s numbers didn’t decline at all.

The explanation? Democrats don’t feel like rallying around Biden. Even though Trump’s numbers are down, he’s clobbering Biden on enthusiasm:

Nearly half of Joe Biden voters, 45%, said they were very or extremely excited to support Biden in the general election, compared to 64% of Trump voters that said they were very or extremely excited to support Trump in November. Nearly a quarter of Biden’s supporters, 26%, said they were not that excited, compared to 15% of Trump voters. Furthermore, 65% of those who voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary season said they were not that excited for Biden.


That might be understandable, had the question been asked before Sanders threw in with Biden. However, Emerson’s polling took place over the last three days, starting nearly two weeks after Sanders endorsed Biden on Biden’s podcast. If they aren’t excited about Biden by now, his performance over the next few months won’t offer much better hope for their engagement.

Emerson encapsulates Biden’s problem in this chart:

Polls matter, but turnout matters more. Voters who are not enthusiastic for a candidate don’t turn out as much, even in normal conditions. When the election will take place in the middle of a pandemic, enthusiasm matters much more. No one risks their health to cast a ballot for someone they’re only iffy about.

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard thinks Democrats are “throwing in the towel“:

Much like Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, his supporters aren’t hugely excited about voting for him.

And according to the latest Emerson College Polling’s survey, Democrats appear to be throwing in the towel. While Biden leads President Trump in a head-to-head matchup, 48%-42%, when voters overall were asked who they really think will win in November, it’s a Trump blowout, 57%-43%. …

Emerson found that Trump has a sizable 19-point advantage in the enthusiasm gap, 64%-45%. Some 36% of his supporters said they are “extremely excited” to vote for Trump, 28% said they are “very excited.” For Biden, those numbers are 22% and 23%. …

That 19-point enthusiasm gap dwarfs the one between Clinton and Trump in 2016. A September 2016 CNN/ORC poll put the gap at 12 points.


It’s too early to tell whether they have thrown in the towel. However, Bedard has a point in arguing that Democrats have managed to nominate the only candidate in the field who can’t generate enthusiasm for blocking Trump from office, for the second straight election cycle. That’s an impressive accomplishment … for all the wrong reasons.

Of course, Democrats haven’t officially nominated Biden yet. The more data that comes out like Emerson’s results, perhaps the more likely the DNC will stage an intervention.

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