The Voter Enthusiasm Gap

44% of Republicans strongly disapprove of President Biden's performance while only 22% of Democrats strongly approve.

CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza points to “One number that should worry every Democrat in Virginia.”

Just days before the crucial Virginia governor’s election, there appears to be a passion gap between the parties that should worry every Democrat looking at the race as a harbinger of things to come in 2022.

The top-line numbers in a new Washington Post-Schar School poll suggest that the race between former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and businessman Glenn Youngkin (R) is a toss-up. McAulliffe is at 49% to Youngkin’s 48% among likely voters.

But dig into the numbers a bit and you find something concerning for Democrats.

Overall, 46% of likely voters approve of the job Joe Biden is doing as President, while 53% disapprove. Which isn’t terrible — although both Biden and McAuliffe would prefer if those numbers were reversed.

The problem becomes more apparent when you look at those who “strongly” approve of Biden’s performance in office and, conversely, those who “strongly” disapprove of how he’s done.

Biden’s strong approval number is 21%. His strong disapproval number? 44%. That’s more than double because, well, math.

What those “strong” numbers generally indicate is base engagement and enthusiasm. And what those numbers, in particular, tell us is that Republicans are far more motivated at the moment than Democrats.

Yesterday, I pointed to a Fox poll showing Youngkin pulling ahead and noted that, since some 900,000 Virginians had already voted, late swings may not matter all that much. But the race has definitely tightened and in Youngkin’s direction.

Still, I’m not sure the enthusiasm gap is all that surprising. The electorate remains incredibly polarized. Republicans, naturally, are quite unhappy with Biden and his attempts to push through a massive expansion of the social safety net. Democrats, meanwhile, are naturally discouraged that, nine months into the administration, their party has not managed to pass any of Biden’s major campaign promises into law.

Ultimately, it’s simply easier to be united in opposition to something than in support of something.

FILED UNDER: 2021 Election, Public Opinion Polls, 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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dude Kembro says:

    Democrats are discouraged because the media tells them to be and, unlike Republicans, Democrats have not yet processed that pundits are (largely, not all) garbage. Intellectually lazy groupthinkers beholden to establishmentarian conventional wisdom.

    Again, since the nattering naboobs in the press won’t mention it: unemployment is down 5%. Wages are up 8%. Child poverty has been cut in half. Stocks are booming. Folks can actually travel and enjoy life again due to a successful vaccine push. The endless Afghan war is over. Only in the upside-down world where Chris Cillizza is paid to offer political opinion does that translate to failure.

    Whenever a president puts working families over war contractors, billionaires, and corporations, of course the media reads it as malaise. That’s how Merica’s supremacist establishment rolls.

  2. Mikey says:

    @Dude Kembro: You have a way of cutting through the bullshit and getting straight to the heart of the thing. Well said.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    If Democrats are unwilling to show up every election, they deserve what happens as a consequence. And if they are willing to take their political cues from a dominantly corporatist and horserace fiction-centered media…

  4. Gustopher says:

    I’ll worry about the results of the Virginia election when we have results. I don’t trust the polls at this point.

    It is worth noting though, that Virginia tends to vote opposite a new President, and has done so for the past 50 years or so — a McAuliffe win would be bucking that trend.

    I expect that’s because it’s right next door to DC, the election is one year after the presidential election, and the unpopular things a new president does have just happened, while the popular things haven’t taken effect yet. Biden took a hit for ending a war, but hasn’t gotten BBB passed yet.