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Republicans Still Face Enthusiasm Gap to Democrats

Republicans Still Face Enthusiasm Gap to Democrats

PRINCETON, NJ -- The latest USA Today/Gallup poll finds a slight uptick in voter enthusiasm compared with a week ago, prior to the Democrats' holding their convention and John McCain's choosing his vice-presidential running mate. Both Democrats and Republicans show slight increases in their enthusiasm about this year's election, though Democrats continue to hold a significant advantage over Republicans, 61% to 42%.

The poll was conducted Aug. 30-31, after the Democratic National Convention was wrapped up by Barack Obama's well-received acceptance speech on Aug. 28 and after McCain's surprise announcement of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate on Aug. 29.

There has been an unmistakable decline in voter enthusiasm over the course of the year, and the recent events have not fully restored enthusiasm to where it was during the intense primary season in January and February, when more than 6 in 10 voters said they were more enthusiastic than usual about voting. The lessened enthusiasm is more apparent among Democrats than Republicans, though both groups show some decline.

The current poll suggests that the decline in Democratic enthusiasm could be the result of a letdown among Hillary Clinton supporters. Among Democrats who say they supported Clinton in the primaries, just 46% now say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting, compared with 77% of Obama primary supporters. In January and February, 78% of Clinton supporters and 84% of Obama supporters reported being more enthused about voting.

Despite the high levels measured earlier this year, voter enthusiasm has declined to the point that it does not match what it was in 2004. Just after the Democratic convention, in late July/early August of that year, 69% of voters said they were more enthusiastic about voting, including 73% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans. Enthusiasm remained at high levels throughout that campaign, and presaged the highest voter turnout in more than three decades.

It is unclear at this point whether enthusiasm will recover to its earlier levels. McCain and the Republicans have a chance to boost Republicans' excitement at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., this week. Also, as the campaign kicks into high gear over the next two months, with three presidential debates and more intense campaigning, voters may show renewed enthusiasm about the election.

Gallup does not have enough of a track record of asking the enthusiasm measure in presidential elections to say what the typical pattern is over the course of an election year, or what the current Democratic advantage in enthusiasm might mean for the election outcome in November. In 2004, in contrast to this year, enthusiasm was lower during the primaries but higher in the general-election phase of the campaign. And in the last pre-election measure in 2004, the two parties were even on expressed enthusiasm (68% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats were more enthusiastic than usual about voting). The only measures from 2000 were taken during the primary season.

Gallup has measured voter enthusiasm more regularly in midterm election years, and a prior analysis suggests that when one party had an advantage on enthusiasm in midterm elections, it tended to fare better in the elections. This relationship appears to have to do more with party allegiances shifting in that party's direction than with higher turnout for the party.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,035 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 30-31, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 1,835 registered voters, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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