Impact of 2016 Primaries on Voter Enthusiasm

Our presidential primary system is a unique, complicated and dynamic system that seems to be engineered more for drama than actually selecting a leader. After each contest pundits and candidates battle over who has “momentum” in an effort to both frame the next chapter and fire up supporters. Electoral losses are referred to as “demoralizing losses”, while victories are going to “energize supporters”. Regular political news covers (in very minute detail) the poll gains and losses of the candidates. What is less well studied is how election fortunes affect the enthusiasm of candidates’ supporters. After a big win or tough loss, are people fired up? Or ready to give up?

To examine this impact of elections, we use data from the January and February 2016 Ipsos/Reuters poll. Specifically we use a question asking respondents their likelihood to vote on a 0-10 scale. This question is asked completely separately of any horse race or ballot question and reflects actual change in voting enthusiasm within the electorate. Below, we show the average enthusiasm score for supporters of the Democratic and Republican candidates with more than 5% of support in their respective polls.

2016 primary impact on enthusiasm

In the Republican primary, a few interesting things have happened. While Donald Trump has maintained his strong position in polling, the enthusiasm to vote of his supporters, already low compared to most other Republicans, has declined after each election – win or loss. This indicates that his supporters have grown less effusive in their support. In fact, the only major Republican candidate with supporters less engaged in voting is the “low energy” Jeb Bush.

On the Democratic side, both candidates have seen supporters grow less enthusiastic about voting. However, Hillary Clinton has seen a more significant drop since Iowa – worrisome when combined with Sanders improved position in national polling results.

Taken together, these figures indicate that the American public tends to lose interest in voting after these election, rather than grow more enthusiastic. We will continue to track this through the rest of the election season.