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Will GOP enthusiasm outweigh Democrats' desire to beat Trump?

A President Donald Trump and a former Vice President Joe Biden supporter converse before the Joe Biden Campaign Rally at the National World War I Museum and Memorial on March 7, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
A President Donald Trump and a former Vice President Joe Biden supporter converse before the Joe Biden Campaign Rally at the National World War I Museum and Memorial on March 7, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
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A series of recent polls have found that while former Vice President Joe Biden's supporters are highly motivated by anxiety and dislike for the incumbent president, President Donald Trump's backers are more enthusiastic and more likely to be excited about their candidate and his campaign.

With less than 100 days until the election, the energy within each party's base to get out and vote will be a critical factor in deciding the winner.

As it stands, Biden is beating Trump in national polls by a wide and growing margin. In most critical battleground states, Biden is polling ahead of the president. The Democratic candidate is even eroding the president's advantage in historically red states like North Carolina and Texas.

On important policy issues, voters are generally more likely to trust Biden on health care, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, addressing race relations and bringing the country closer together. With businesses still struggling from the pandemic and high unemployment, Trump has started to lose his historic edge on the economy, with more voters now saying they trust Biden to handle the economy than Trump.

Amid a slew of what would seem to be severely damaging polls, the Trump campaign has claimed to have the secret to reelection: an enthusiastic base of supporters that are dedicated to their candidate.

"The Trump Campaign has more ENTHUSIASM, according to many, than any campaign in the history of our great Country - Even more than 2016. Biden has NONE!" Trump tweeted over the weekend, claiming the "Silent Majority" would show for him Nov. 3.

In an opinion piece for Fox News, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel asserted, "President Trump’s enthusiasm advantage over Joe Biden is real and wide."

A new AP-NORC poll released Monday confirmed the enthusiasm gap between Trump and Biden. By a wide margin, Trump supporters were more likely than Biden supporters to tell pollsters they felt their candidate was a strong leader, capable and would stand up for what he believed.

Trump also held an 11 point lead among voters who said they were "excited" about the November election and a slight lead among voters who said they were "interested" in the race. The Democratic candidate had a 20-point lead among voters who said they were "anxious" about the election.

Another recent poll showed 73% of Trump supporters saw their vote as a positive vote for the president. Only 33% of Biden voters said theirs would be an expression of support for the candidate. The remaining 67% said they would be voting against Trump. Other polls have shown Trump voters favor their candidate two to one over Biden voters.

"It’s easier to vote for someone than against someone else," said Karla Mastracchio, a communications consultant and professor at the University of Iowa. President Barack Obama figured that out with his campaign, Mastracchio noted, "Hopefully, Biden’s camp will too."

At this stage, the Trump camp is using the lack of positive enthusiasm for Biden to energize the president's reelection campaign and rebut a host of negative polls. "That’s an enormous indicator, and there’s just no excitement on that side," Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh told Breitbart News. "No one thinks that Joe Biden is a good candidate."

Some have compared the 2020 election to the 2004 contest between President George W. Bush and then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Ahead of the election, Bush's disapproval rating hit 48%. Democrats were outraged over the Iraq War and eager to vote Bush out of office. Kerry, who was largely seen as a safe but uninspiring candidate, failed to turn out the vote while Bush's base rallied for his reelection.

"[I]t is usually not enough for a candidate's core voters to be motivated by simply removing the incumbent from office," said Kris Parker, a political strategist and attorney in Florida and former regional director of the Obama 2012 campaign.

"However, Donald Trump has fundamentally changed the physics of political campaigns," Parker continued. Unlike 2004, Trump is sitting with a 57% disapproval rating. Biden, like Kerry, is not seen as the party's most inspiring candidate, Parker continued, but his turnout would have to be "abysmal" for Trump to overcome his consistently low ratings.

Turnout for primary elections did not hit the record-highs that some had projected. Still, Democratic turnout in the 2020 primary season exceeded that of 2016, despite a pandemic that forced some states to change election dates and voting methods at the last minute.

Willingness to get out to vote is what people should be watching instead of excitement about a particular candidate, explained Kendall Scudder a Democratic strategist and host of the "Pod Bless Texas" podcast.

"What you should be gauging is enthusiasm to vote not enthusiasm for the candidate," Scudder said. "Regardless of if they're excited about Biden or not, Democrats have much higher numbers who are actually excited to show up and vote against Donald Trump."

Large numbers of Democrats and Republicans have said they are certain to vote in the upcoming election, though polls show that Democrats appear to have a slight advantage.

The motivation to vote will also be increasingly important with more Americans than ever able to vote early or vote by mail due to the coronavirus. That is going to change how campaigns target voters in the coming months. Especially as they narrow their focus on less-likely or less motivated voters in the final days of the campaign.

In some states, absentee ballots go out 45 days before Election Day, which means some people will have a chance to vote before the first debate. On average, early in-person voting starts three weeks before Nov. 3.

"If you're a conservative group that wants to run ads or if you're the Trump campaign, I would be spending the vast majority of my money upfront, defining Joe Biden starting as soon as possible," said Terry Schilling, the executive director at American Principles Project, a conservative think tank.

Schilling continued, "I would start running my campaign ads and targeting voters in late July or early August, because they're going to be making their decisions about a month and a half earlier than normal."

The Trump campaign has already poured more than $80 million into advertising in the first half of 2020, more than four times the amount he spent in the same period in 2016, according to the Financial Times. Biden has spent $65 million in the first six months of the year.

Trump's latest ad blitz has been aimed at suburban women voters, stoking fears that a Biden presidency will mean more violence in cities, lawlessness and backlash against law enforcement.

Notably, Trump's support among suburban women voters has eroded since 2016. In some polls, Trump is trailing Biden by 25 points among female voters. The president has been working to claw back that support with appeals to the "Suburban Housewives of America."

After polls in 2016 predicted a decisive win for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, many have started to take public opinion surveys with a healthy dose of skepticism. Some Republican pollsters have argued that data showing Biden ahead of Trump by wide margins is skewed toward a voter base that it's least 10% more Democratic than 2016 exit polls would suggest.

Trump has often been ridiculed for his reference to a "silent majority" of supporters who quietly back him without making their views known to pollsters or anyone else until they cast their ballots.

Last week, the libertarian Cato Institute published a study that found that nearly two-thirds of Americans self-censor their political views because they believe others might find them offensive. Roughly 77% of conservatives and 64% of self-identified moderates said they withheld their political beliefs because of the current political climate. About 52% of liberals and 42% of strong liberals said the same.

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The number of people who are self-censoring has grown over recent years. The authors of the study did not draw any specific conclusions about how their findings could impact the upcoming election. They did note, that despite keeping views to themselves, these unshared opinions "are likely shaping how people think about salient policy issues and ultimately impacting how they vote."

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