The Democrats’ enthusiasm gap and its perils

Political analyst Charlie Cook argues that President Obama faces an enthusiasm gap that is likely to plague his reelection campaign. Cook finds that this gap manifests itself in two of the three demographic groups among which Obama needs huge margins. The two groups are Hispanics and young voters. Obama suffers no shortage of enthusiasm from the third group — African-Americans.

I suspect, however, that the lack of enthusiasm among those who supported Obama is not confined to Hispanics and the young. Enthusiasm for Obama likely is down among all groups except for African-Americans.

The enthusiasm gap creates a dilemma for the Democrats at their convention. To rekindle enthusiasm, the Dems need to fire up their base. But in firing up the base, the Democrats risk alienating moderates.

How for example, can the Democrats motivate Hispanics to vote? Perhaps talking about immigration reform or transfer payments to the poor would do the trick. But that kind of talk might hurt Obama with many swing voters.

Similarly, what will fire up young voters? I haven’t a clue, actually. However, the Democrats seem to believe that free birth control is the ticket, and plan to feature Sandra Fluke as a speaker in Charlotte.

Perhaps the sight of a 31 year-old law school graduate grousing about Republican views on birth control, abortion, and other social issues will drive youngsters to the polls in November. But it may not sit well with undecided Catholic voters, especially to the extent they remember that Obama has decreed that virtually all health care plans, including those of many Catholic organizations, must cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that can cause abortions. Indeed, as John has said, hearing about social issues in the current economic climate may not sit well with voters in general.

The best way to fire up the base without alienating moderates is to hammer the Romney-Ryan ticket, while avoiding issues like immigration, abortion, and the like. This approach, I imagine, will be the one that Democrats embrace this week.

But antipathy towards the opposing Party is no substitute for enthusiasm towards one’s own Party when it comes to voter turnout. And if the Democrats sound too shrill and negative, they risk losing the large number of moderate voters who like to complain about the tenor of modern politics.

JOHN adds: I agree with all of the above, except for this: African-Americans continue to be enthusiastic about Obama when they are talking to pollsters, but, given how most African-Americans have been hammered by the Obama economy, I would be astonished if that faux enthusiasm manifests itself at the polls in November.