Romney Enthusiasm Gap

Can Mitt Romney get Republicans to turn out next November?

I’ve been reading Sean Paul Kelley’s Agonist blog even longer than I’ve been blogging. Indeed, I linked it my first day. I got a chuckle out of this assertion, though, by a poster known as Actor 212:

[A]ssume Mitt Romney is nominated. He has a hard time corraling 30% of the GOP vote now in the primaries. That lack of enthusiasm will work against him, as it did McCain, in 2012. It’s unlikely that a candidate who can’t pull a third of his own party a year out will win an election against a popular center-right Democrat.

Aside from the question of whether Obama is center-right (I don’t believe he is within the American context) or whether a man with higher disapproval than disapproval can be considered popular (I think he can, actually), the thing that jumped out at me was the notion that capturing less than a third support out of a crowded primary field was some sort of indicator of ability to inspire enthusiasm in a general election.

It took me all of 20 seconds to plug into Google “democratic primary polls october 2007” and  click on the very first result, a CBS News poll from 27 October 2007 showing that “In a hypothetical three-way contest, 51 percent of Democratic primary voters choose [Sen. Hillary] Clinton as the nominee. That’s the highest percentage since CBS News started asking the question in the spring and an increase of seven points from September. Twenty-three percent back Sen. Barack Obama, while 13 percent support former Sen. John Edwards.” Additionally, that poll found, “Clinton is viewed favorably by 43 percent of all voters, while Obama is viewed favorably by 38 percent and Edwards by 30 percent. Significantly more Americans say they are undecided or don’t know enough to have an opinion about Obama (37 percent) and Edwards (39 percent) than say the same about Clinton (16 percent).”

Recall, too, that even quite late in the race, when it narrowed to Obama and Clinton, a very staunch group of pro-Clinton Democrats calling themselves PUMA (party unity, my ass) were vociferously anti-Obama and there was lots of talk about boycotting the upstart should he become the nominee.  We all know how that turned out.

Now, I’m not going to claim that Romney has anything like the charismatic appeal Obama had in 2008. But I’m willing to bet that ousting Obama from office rather than giving him four more years will make up for whatever lack of enthusiasm they feel for Romney personally in getting Republicans motivated to vote.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. legion says:

    Indeed, the main problem with polls like this is that they can’t differentiate between people in the ‘Any Republican but Romney’ camp vs. the ‘Any human being (even Obama) but Romney’ camp. How many of the people who are unwilling to support Mittens in the Primaries are really likely to sit out the General all together if he’s the nominee? Probably not that many, since I’d guess that the majority of Republicans who are most anti-Romney are even more virulently anti-Obama…

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I have no doubt that the GOP is motivated by hatred of Obama and I’m sure that rage is all they’ll need to justify voting for a man they don’t trust, don’t like, and who is essentially, just a white Obama.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: I don’t think the antipathy for Obama is as deep as it was for Bill Clinton, actually. And, in hindsight, one could argue that both the 1992 and 1996 elections provided choices–in practical policy terms, at least–really were no more divergent than Obama-Romney would be.

  4. legion says:

    @James Joyner: I think it’s a matter of scale… there are probably fewer people who actively dislike Obama, but those that do seem to have a more intense, reality-bending hate-on for him…

  5. matt b says:

    Crystal Ball Time for Republican Primaries, it all comes down to Florida and Jan 31st.

    Scenario A – Romney wins Florida, New Hampshire and either Iowa or SC and essentially seals the deal before January is over. If this happens, talk radio revolts, and attempts to portray the race as not over. Calls will go out from base not to seat Florida delegation.

    In this case the issue is a huge enthusiasm gap as Populist Conservatives see Romney as McCain the revenge. I suspect he will essentially “announce” his Conservative VP prior to the convention in order to rectify that gap.

    Scenario B – By Florida Romney has only won New Hampshire and he loses Florida, expect his backers to work to try and avoid seating Florida delegates which, in turn, will set off the talk radio base. He’ll also be desperate and really remove the gloves. Campaign turns really ugly, and will go the “distance”, further excentuates the internal GOP split between populists and establishment candidates. Whoever wins in the end emerges bloodied and having alienated a chunk of his base.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    Clinton’s inauguration was not met by major GOP figures vowing to bring him down. Back in those days they pretended to a degree of patriotism.

  7. Hey Norm says:

    Riddle-me this Batman…If it is going to be so easy to beat Obama…why haven’t any quality (never mind sane) candidates jumped in the race?
    I’m just sayin’

  8. Hey Norm says:

    @ MR…
    I don’t think the GOP was pretending then…and there is absolutely no pretense as to their motives today.

  9. PJ says:

    @matt b:

    Scenario A – Romney wins Florida, New Hampshire and either Iowa or SC and essentially seals the deal before January is over. If this happens, talk radio revolts, and attempts to portray the race as not over. Calls will go out from base not to seat Florida delegation.

    No candidate can seal the deal before January is over. The GOP rules for next year’s primaries won’t allow winner-take-all contests until April.

    (2) Any presidential primary, caucus, convention, or other meeting held for the purpose of selecting delegates to the national convention which occurs prior to the first day of April in the year in which the national convention is held, shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis.

    If there is something that the 2008 Democratic primary taught us, it is the importance of knowing the rules of the primaries and caucuses…

  10. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: I think it’s the time moreso than the men. Things are just much more nasty than in 1992. Gingrich and company helped but it’s just been a viscous cycle. And the fact that we’re truly in a 24/7/365 media cycle and permanent in a way that was only dawning in 1992.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Too bad Republicans don’t decide elections (neither do Dems). Independents do… And If Reps have to hold their nose to vote for him, what is to persuade Independents to do the same?

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Hey Norm: Who said it would be easy to beat Obama? I’ve stated repeatedly that he’s the frontrunner. My sense is that Romney is the Republican most likely to be able to beat him, but it’s by no means a guarantee.

    As to the quality of the candidates, that seems to be a constant lament. But we had some solid candidates, at least in terms of resume: Romney, Huntsman, Pawlenty, Perry, and even Gingrich. Aside from maybe Mike Pence and Jeb Bush, who is it that sat this one out that you thought was a major player? Palin? Huckabee?

  13. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Independents are likely to be more comfortable with Romney than hard-core conservative Republicans. There’s also the horrendously bad economy.

  14. matt b says:

    @PJ:
    Couple points…

    My suggestion that Romney seals the deal if he takes 3 of 4 (including Florida) of the primaries isn’t so much a numbers issue as a “momentum” one. Such an initial lead would suggest that contra-Talk Radio/Populist Conservatives talking points, the party is voting based on perceived “electability.” I would have a hard time imagining the tide turning against Mitt under those circumstances — though the talking class will be in full out revolt.

    As far as “winner takes all” — the current word is that the Florida plan is for it to be winner takes all (though at half of the delegate count) – http://news.google.com/news/more?q=florida+gop+primary&hl=en&prmd=imvnsu&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&biw=1440&bih=786&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ncl=dxfzx8ODxGebNGMXD1TqeUGTYWnFM&ei=iOeuTs0a54-xAuqA4fIO&sa=X&oi=news_result&ct=more-results&resnum=1&ved=0CDIQqgIwAA

    I agree that knowing the rules in important, however, I expect that in the end, it isn’t going to matter all that much (though I’ve been known to be wrong quite a lot of the time),

  15. PJ says:

    A splintered Republican field won’t help Romney as much this year as it would have with the 2008 rules.

    For example, let say that Romney gets 40% in Florida, 30% in Iowa, 50% in New Hampshire, and 30% in South Carolina. That would, under next year’s rules, net him about 72 delegates out of 194.

    55% in Florida, 45% in Iowa, 60% in New Hampshire, and 40% in South Carolina would get him 98 out of 194.

    The new GOP rules is a **** sandwich for Romney…

  16. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:

    Independents are likely to be more comfortable with Romney than hard-core conservative Republicans.

    Independents would also be more comfortable with McCain. Then McCain had to please the Republican base and then he picked his VP, and after all that, independents really weren’t that comfortable any more…

  17. Dustin says:

    But I’m willing to bet that ousting Obama from office rather than giving him four more years will make up for whatever lack of enthusiasm they feel for Romney personally in getting Republicans motivated to vote.

    That line of thought didn’t work out so well for the Democrats and John Kerry in 2004.

  18. Hey Norm says:

    @ James…

    “…and even Gingrich…”

    Did you type that with a straight face?
    At any rate…you have made a good point. There are seemingly no quality Republicans. Perhaps a Clinton lurking in the weeds somewhere. But there aren’t any on the national stage.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @Dustin: But Kerry didn’t have particularly low Democratic turnout. Rather, he did a poor job of persuading independents to vote for him over a sitting president in the midst of two wars and a booming economy.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Hey Norm: Gingrich is eminently qualified to be president by virtue of intellect and experience, thus he’s a “quality candidate” by reasonable standards. He’s got some serious personal baggage that I find more problematic than Bill Clinton has in 1992. But he’s otherwise plausible.

    I would argue that at least three very good candidates presented themselves this cycle: Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney. Huntsman, my personal favorite, is perceived (unfairly in my view) as too liberal and is tainted (again, unfairly in my view) by having served as Obama’s China ambassador. Pawlenty lacks charisma and didn’t differentiate himself enough to seem a plausible alternative to the better funded and better known Romney.

    Romney, who I think will be the nominee, has some consistency issues that will be familiar to fans of Al Gore and John Kerry. They may sink him. Indeed, they were the primary reason I preferred McCain last cycle. But he’s bright, sane, seasoned, and experienced. He’s not a slam dunk but he’s likely better than most presidential nominees. Compare him to Kerry, Gore, Dole, Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern and he’s middle of the pack. Frankly, that’s true of Nixon, Ford, Carter, and GWBush, too, except that they were elevated by virtue of having been president,

    They’re all flawed. Reagan was considered too stupid in 1980. GHW Bush, certainly the most qualified candidate in my lifetime, was considered a wimp in 1988. Clinton was considered too inexperienced and sleazy in 1992. Obama was too inexperienced in 2008.

  21. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:

    Recall, too, that even quite late in the race, when it narrowed to Obama and Clinton, a very staunch group of pro-Clinton Democrats calling themselves PUMA (party unity, my ass) were vociferously anti-Obama and there was lots of talk about boycotting the upstart should he become the nominee. We all know how that turned out.

    Those PUMAs were very loud, and that’s all there was. I don’t recall polls saying that only 80% of voters would be ok voting for a black candidate.

  22. James Joyner says:

    @PJ: My sense is that the Mormon Problem is vastly overstated, in that lots of people have general prejudices that they don’t apply in particular cases. Those same polls showed a bias against over-70 candidates; there’s very little evidence that this was a significant factor in McCain’s loss.

  23. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:
    I’d say that religion is quite different from age.

    I doubt that an excellent quip like “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience”, would in any way influence someone to look past a candidate’s religion, or lack thereof, if that person has an issue with it to begin with.

  24. Hey Norm says:

    @ James….
    Gingrich’s

    “…intellect and experience…”

    are just more right-wing myth…completely baseless. The guy attacked Obama for being an anti-colonialist. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t we all anti-colonialists? He wanted to limit our free-speech because of 9.11. And his experience consists of being drummed out of the Speakers job…but I’ll give him credit…he didn’t just give up and quit like Palin did.
    You may be right about Huntsman…but while imminently qualified he can’t get traction within the party of Teavangelicals.
    T-Paw left Minnesota with a $5B deficit, property taxes rose $2.5B, and Moody’s lowered the state’s bond rating. To you this is quality?
    Romney, as Huntsman himself pointed out, is a well-lubricated weather vane. Again…quality? He’s a huckster…telling the crowd what they want to hear. If I ran ads showing that picture of him while at Bain, with the cash falling out of his pockets and the pockets of his colleagues, I could beat him in the General Election.

  25. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    Can Mitt Romney get Republicans to turn out next November?

    No. Next Question.

  26. Murray says:

    Romney and the current GOP have the potential of producing the Republican Dukakis presidential run.

    I include the GOP apparatus as co-responsible because Romney’s flip flopping is just a consequence of the GOP’s shape shifting, and also because it doesn’t give any support to “reality based” candidates such as Pawlenty and Huntsman.

    In other words, democracies have the leaders they deserve and by extension parties have the candidates they deserve.

  27. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Comparing Democrat primary voters with Republican primary voters is the ultimate in apples-to-oranges comparisons. In fact it’s ridiculous. Democrats vote for the Democrat or they vote against the Republican, regardless of the nominee. There’s an entire sub-demographic of erstwhile Republicans, however, who participate in the primary process but who then search far and wide for reasons not to vote in the general election, unless their guy wins the primary.

    If Romney is the nominee there will be at least 3-4 million evangelical Protestants and other social conservatives who will not vote in the general election. The ultimate number of conservatives and putative conservatives who’ll sit out the general if Romney is the nominee could approach 5-6 million. Maybe more, who knows? It’s tough to measure who doesn’t vote.

    That doesn’t mean Romney can’t win the general. He’ll attract a lot of moderates and Independents. Even despite the stay home bloc of conservatives he’ll garner at least 90% of Republicans who do vote. A lot of Reagan Democrats will vote against Obama next year, regardless of the GOP nominee. Things after all really are bad out there on Main Street. Romney is intelligent and articulate, telegenic and polished. With the Romney “brand” he very well could flip Michigan. That’s not an insignificant state. Nevada has a lot of Mormons. Romney could flip that state too. New Hampshire is fertile ground. Those all were states Obama won in 2008. Romney could win the Electoral College, either with or without a popular vote majority. Then again, it’ll be very tough to spot Obama so many missed votes, especially in place like Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In a Obama-Romney contest I’d give Obama slightly better than even money odds at reelection.

  28. physics geek says:

    Romeny isn’t my preferred candidate. In fact, I haven’t actually got one this election cycle, so I’m left looking at who is running. And looking at Mitt as the potential GOP nominee, I’m reminded of the fact that Obama won the state of Ohio by getting fewer votes than John Kerry did losing the state four years before. Droves of conservatives stayed home rather than vote for McCain. I’m of the opinion that lots of nominal conservative to libertarian voters are going to either withdraw from the political process or suck it up in the political wilderness for a decade or more by creating a new 3rd party. My guess is that people have finally noticed that our elected officials seem intent on two things, regardless of political affiliation: gathering more power and feathering their nests. And that is souring a lot of people on politics.

    What’s the answer? I don’t claim to know. But I do think that the Republicans and Democrats in DC have a lot more in common with each other than they do with the voters across America. And I find that disconnect troubling.

  29. Eric Florack says:

    Can Mitt Romney get Republicans to turn out next November?

    No.

    Which is why the left is so usy plugging for him in the nomination.
    This is McCain v2.0

  30. Eric Florack says:

    What’s the answer? I don’t claim to know. But I do think that the Republicans and Democrats in DC have a lot more in common with each other than they do with the voters across America. And I find that disconnect troubling.

    Exactly. So too, do the voters, themselves.
    And the castrati running the GOP haven’t gotten that message yet

  31. Wayne says:

    If the base doesn’t show up then picking off a few moderates in the middle won’t get Romney elected President. If Romney gets the nomination much of the base may not show up. Four years of a lame duck Democrat liberal President or 4 to 8 years of an active liberal Republican President, tougher choice than what some claim.

  32. mannning says:

    Given that Romney wins the nomination and becomes the Republican candidate, it behooves all Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians and any Independents so inclined, to vote and help get out the vote. It is neither proper nor practical to sit this one out, and see our nation go to hell under the current administration and congressional makeup over Mormonism or the perceived vacillations of Romney. A strong Republican House and Senate can make up for any differences that may occur.

    The message is simple and devastating: Vote for Obama and see the US dangerously further underwater financially; and constantly jiggering undemocratically with our system; or, vote for Romney (or any Republican) and enhance our chances of both a much faster economic recovery and a return to both fiscal and social sanity in government.

  33. Wayne says:

    @ Manning
    How many Romney supporters will back Cain or another conservative if they win the GOP nomination?

  34. Eric Florack says:

    Given that Romney wins the nomination and becomes the Republican candidate, it behooves all Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians and any Independents so inclined, to vote and help get out the vote.

    Why? If Romney gets the nomination, what is the advantage to him getting the White House, instead of Obama, given so much of their non-thought appears to be identical? If we don’t get an actual conservative, what do we gain? This is not a matter of the GOP winning the WH back. This is a matter of a change in policy… and getting a non-conservative doesn’t get it done,.

    Nothing.