Barack Obama clearly faces an “intensity gap.” His poll numbers hover in the low 40s, and a tangible sense of disappointment muffles the enthusiasm of even his loyal supporters. Hope and change have been replaced by a far less compelling slogan: Hang On. Don’t Change.
But Republicans will face a serious excitement shortage of their own next year, especially if they nominate Mitt Romney, the clear front-runner. Just one sign: The former Massachusetts governor spoke to a meeting of conservative “values voters” last weekend. In a subsequent straw poll, Romney finished sixth. Yes, sixth. Only 88 voters out of almost 2,000, or 4 percent, endorsed him.
Talk about an intensity gap. That’s more like a canyon. As the influential right-wing blogger Erick Erickson summed up the mood in GOP ranks: “Everyone’s willing to settle for Mitt Romney, but nobody wants to settle for Mitt Romney.”
The battle lines for 2012 are already emerging. Both sides will spend far more time and money excoriating their opponent than extolling their own virtues. At the latest GOP debate, Romney attacked Obama seconds into his first answer. The bumper stickers have already been written: “Our guy’s not great, but he’s better than your moron.”
The president’s devotion deficit has been well-documented by the Pew Research Center. Only one out of four voters say they “strongly approve” of Obama’s performance. Among independents, only one in five is enthusiastic about his leadership, and barely half of all Democrats share that view.