The Enthusiasm Gap

The most important number on Tuesday night in Iowa wasn’t eight—the miniscule margin by which Mitt Romney edged out Rick Santorum for first place. It was 3,255—the negligible estimated increase in turnout over the 2008 GOP caucuses. Given the sizable number of independents —23 percent of the total—who showed up to (mostly) vote for third-place finisher Ron Paul, it looks like fewer Iowa Republicans actually voted this year. To say the least, this complicates one of the most popular story lines about 2012—that Republicans are simply wild to unseat President Barack Obama and that the Democrats are facing a serious “enthusiasm gap” against their fired-up foes. (In fact, a Gallup poll in December already began to puncture this myth.)

In 2008, the Democratic caucuses in Iowa attracted 239,000 voters, almost twice the number as in 2004—a portent of the rising tide that would lift Obama to the White House ten months later. Of course, the Democrats had three candidates that year (Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards) who attracted fervent support. What this year’s caucuses showed, more than anything else, was that while Republicans might dearly love the idea of toppling the president, they remain lukewarm about their potential champions. And that might be the real enthusiasm gap that matters in 2012. 

So They Say

“Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Rick Santorum, October 2011 

Daily Meme: Spin Cycle

Santorum: “Game on!”
Romney: “America wins.” 
Paul: “We’re all Austrians now!”  
Gingrich: “Romney is not going to win the nomination.”
Bachmann: “I have decided to stand aside.”
Perry: “Here We Come South Carolina!!!”
Huntsman: “Nobody cares.”

What We're Writing

  • Patrick Caldwell reports from Iowa on Santorum, Romney, and the battle for the GOP’s soul.
  • In New Hampshire, Harold Meyerson beholds “the wrath of Newt.”


What We're Reading


Poll of the Day

Rasmussen’s latest tracking shows Obama trailing a generic Republican, 47 percent to 43 percent.