The media narrative that Clinton garners less enthusiasm is wrong

Since Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders emerged as a candidate who could generate big crowds, the media narrative has been that his supporters are more enthusiastic than Hillary Clinton’s.

Reading the recent polls suggests that’s not true.

You can see this in three different sorts of polls: ones that ask about people’s commitment to their candidate, their likelihood of coming out to vote for her or him, and in questions about enthusiasm.

In the most recent Des Moines Register poll in which Clinton leads narrowly, close to double the number of Sanders supporters (29%) say they could be persuaded to change their mind than Clinton supporters (16%).

Des Moines Register poll,

Des Moines Register poll, 1/26=1/29/2016. 602 likely voters. Margin of error +/- 4 percentage points.

If Sanders voters were, as a group, more enthusiastic, you’d expect that they’d be less likely to say they could be persuaded to change their minds.

Moreover, this same poll found:

Clinton leads Sanders among Democrats who say they will definitely hit caucus sites, while Sanders leads among Democrats who say they will probably caucus.

Again, this greater propensity to caucus undermines the narrative than Sanders supporters are more enthusiastic.

Among all Iowa Democrats, while there is enthusiasm for both Sanders and Clinton, there is a little more enthusiasm for Clinton as the nominee — 73% vs. 69%.

Screenshot 2016-01-31 11.53.48

Indicators of greater enthusiasm for Clinton can also be seen outside Iowa.

For instance, the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that more Clinton supporters say they’re committed in their choice of her as their candidate.

Washington Post-ABC News poll Jan. 21-24, 2016

Washington Post-ABC News poll. 1/21-24, 2016.

Versus the Iowa poll, fewer people polled are certain of their choices, a finding that makes sense since most people’s primaries or caucuses are not coming as soon. However, the pattern regarding commitment to a candidate is the same. Clinton supporters are more certain of their choices.

And in the most recent CNN poll, 33% of Democrats polled say they would be enthusiastic if Sanders was the nominee, compared to 37% saying that regarding Clinton. Granted, these are not big differences, but they again follow the pattern of Clinton supporters being more enthusiastic.

Despite all this, media stories continue to suggest Sanders supporters are more enthusiastic.

That’s true for a Washington Post story that discusses the Des Moines Register poll discussed above, which certainly doesn’t show that.

One reason why the polls and the narrative don’t match up might be that there’s a different sort of enthusiasm for Clinton. That’s what’s been suggested by Tom Vilsack, the former Democratic governor of Iowa.

“I think there is a different kind of passion that fuels the Clinton campaign,” Mr. Vilsack said. “It’s not the rah-rah, big rally, yelling screaming type of passion. It is the passion of perseverance.”

He said Iowa women, in particular, recognize that sense of perseverance in working for a better future for their families, and he predicted that their support would help Mrs. Clinton emerge from the caucuses victorious.

“They are not going to be doing high-fives and all that kind of stuff,” he said, “but they are going to be there on caucus night.” [source]

It’s also possible that the polls are somehow getting this wrong.

Another possibility comes from the fact that Sanders likes to hold big rallies while Clinton tends to hold town meetings. The different kinds of events very well could convey different levels of enthusiasm.

And maybe reporters are getting this wrong because people in their circles, whether their kids or other adults, are more pro-Sanders than the general population.

Whatever the cause or causes, there are many hints in polls that the media narrative about enthusiasm is wrong. This polling pattern may change or may not be translated into votes, but it’s there while being unrecognized in discussions of the Democratic nomination race.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.