Poll: Democrats face big enthusiasm gap in 2016

The growth of unmarried women, minorities, and Millennials is a potential boon to Democrats in the next election, but they have to turn out. For now, there's a 15-point enthusiasm gap, says Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Page Gardner, president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, and Stan Greenberg, chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and co-founder of Democracy Corps, speaks to reporters on Monday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast in Washington.

Democrats believe they have a winning agenda heading into the 2016 presidential election. And for the first time, the “base” of their party – unmarried women, people of color, and young voters – represents a majority of voting-eligible citizens, according to survey data released Monday.

But none of that matters if Democrats don’t turn out. As of now, 16 months before Election Day, that’s the challenge for them: The Democratic Party faces a big enthusiasm gap with the Republicans, according to a poll of 950 likely 2016 voters sponsored by Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund. 

Among Republicans, 67 percent reported the highest level of interest in the 2016 elections – rating it a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 – compared with 52 percent of Democrats. Among the so-called rising American electorate (unmarried women, minorities, and Millennials), only 48 percent responded with a 10. 

“Even though they’re giving the Democrats big numbers, their lack of enthusiasm is grounded in an analysis of the way the political system operates,” Democracy Corps founder Stan Greenberg told reporters Monday at a breakfast hosted by the Monitor.

At focus groups, Mr. Greenberg says, a lot of the talk centered on money in politics and perceptions that candidates can’t relate to the problems of average people.

“They’re made up of a lot of rich people. They don’t have these problems we deal with on a daily basis,” read one focus group comment, as reported by the two voter-research organizations.   

Is all this bad news for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner? No, says Page Gardner, founder of Women’s Voices, now known as the Voter Participation Center. Ms. Gardner points to the “four pillars” of former Secretary Clinton’s campaign – building “the economy of the future,” campaign finance reform, strengthening families, and national security – as evidence she’s addressing the concerns of the Democratic base.

Also helping Democrats, and Clinton, is a perception that Republican candidates “don’t get” the lives of most Americans, Gardner says.

On the flip side, Republicans are more jazzed than Democrats about the 2016 elections because “they don’t like [President] Obama, they don’t like Hillary Clinton,” says Greenberg.

“When they watch the Supreme Court on gay marriage and the ACA, the Affordable Care Act, they see that the only thing to stop it are the Republican presidential candidates,” he adds. “They are trying to stop something as opposed to Democrats who are needing to change a government that needs to be reformed.... And so it is a more complicated argument for Democrats.”  

Last week, Mr. Obama and the Democrats won two huge victories in the Supreme Court – a challenge to the federal subsidies in Obamacare and the right of same-sex couples to marry. Republican presidential candidates are using those issues to argue the importance of recapturing the presidency, which brings the ability to drive the Washington agenda and nominate Supreme Court justices.

But Greenberg rejects the idea that Republicans could win politically from last week’s Supreme Court losses.

“If there’s a perception that [Obama] is a successful president, that’s a plus” for Hillary, he said.

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