Late last week, a CNN poll of Florida voters found something interesting. Among likely voters, Mitt Romney enjoys a slight edge over President Obama, 49% to 48%, but among registered voters, the president has a large advantage, 50% to 43%.
In other words, Florida voters overall clearly prefer Obama, but a whole lot of Obama supporters in Florida just don’t intend to show up. Though the results weren’t quite this dramatic in the new NBC/WSJ poll, the national trend is pointing in a similar direction.
I put together this chart to help illustrate the gap – among likely voters, the two candidates are tied at 47% each, while among registered voters, the president leads by five. Other recent national polls also point to the same phenomenon, with Obama faring much better with the adult population overall, and worse with those most likely to actually vote.
At a distance, this is a mixed bag for both sides. The good news for Obama is that he has room to grow – there are voters out there who want him to win, but are inclined to stay on the sidelines. If they can be motivated to cast a ballot, the president’s odds improve considerably.
The bad news for Obama is that, with just two week to go, he may very well lose because his supporters made a choice not to show up when it counted.
If you’re thinking this dynamic seems kind of familiar, there’s a good reason for that.
About a week before the 2010 midterms, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found Republicans leading in all the relevant categories – generic ballot, economic credibility, personal values – among those likely to show up and cast a ballot. At the same time, the exact same poll shows Democrats leading in all the relevant categories – generic ballot, economic credibility, personal values – among registered voters.
The larger population wasn’t exactly eager to see a GOP wave, but Democratic voters weren’t motivated; they stayed on the couch; and Republicans made massive gains nationwide because their engaged supporters showed up.
To be sure, in much of the country, Republican policymakers have waged a “war on voting,” intended to restrict and discourage Democratic voters from accessing their own democracy. But what’s jarring is the notion of Obama supporters doing Republicans’ job for them by having the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate, but choosing not to.