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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Democrats Widen Enthusiasm Gap

President Obama (left) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (right).(AP Images)

photo of Ben  Schreckinger
September 12, 2012

Democrats are now significantly more engaged by the presidential race and view it more favorably than Republicans, according to a Pew survey published on Wednesday.

Two-thirds of Democrats find the campaign “interesting” compared with only half of Republicans, while 68 percent of Dems find it “informative,” compared with just under half of Republicans, according to survey, conducted over the weekend by the the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The most dramatic divergence since June is in the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who find the campaign too negative. The proportion has fallen 12 points for Democrats, to 42 percent, while it has shot up 9 points for Republicans, to 63 percent. 

 

That reversal may be due to the success of Democratic attacks on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, which have portrayed him as out of touch with the middle class and as a former corporate raider who destroyed jobs.

In March, as Romney was locking up the nomination and the GOP was dominating media coverage, Republicans were more enthusiastic than Democrats about the campaign. According to a Pew survey conducted at the time, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to find the campaign “interesting” and “informative,” while Democrats were more likely to describe the campaign as “too negative.”

After Romney’s primary opponents bowed out and the campaign became geared toward the general election, Democrats’ enthusiasm began to overtake that of Republicans, according a Pew survey conducted in June. In that poll, Democrats, by double-digit margins, were more likely than Republicans to view the campaign as “interesting” and “informative,” though they remained slightly more likely to view it as “too negative.”

Now, after a long summer of attacks on Romney’s private sector record and a Democratic edge in post-convention polling bumps, a consensus is emerging that President Obama has a slight but definite advantage heading into the homestretch—and the enthusiasm gap has widened substantially.

Notably, the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans is much wider now than at this point in the 2008 campaign. In September 2008, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to think the campaign had gone on “too long,” but they were slightly more likely than Democrats to find the campaign interesting and informative.

Those results belie the image of the 2008 campaign as one driven by overwhelming enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy. At the time, a drawn-out Democratic primary battle with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had strained party harmony, and Sen. John McCain’s pick of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate had stoked his party’s base. Overall, only 53 percent of Americans are interested in the current campaign, compared with 68 percent at this point in 2008.

The one measure of enthusiasm that has not flipped over the course of this campaign is the percentage of voters who feel it has gone on “too long.” Obama faced no serious primary challenge, while a colorful array of Republican hopefuls garnered consistent attention during the primary season and the months leading up to it. Throughout the year, Republicans have been consistently more likely than Democrats to respond that the campaign has been too long.

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