The Enthusiasm Gap, and How Obama Can Close It

Isaiah J. Poole

A straw poll taken at the Take Back the American Dream conference shows that the “enthusiasm gap” between progressives and President Obama is very real.

Progressive leaders are nonetheless committed to Obama’s reelection, the poll shows. The question that Obama must answer, however, is that if the activists and intellectuals at the core of the progressive movement have such mixed feelings, will he take bold steps to assure the progressive rank-and-file that he will be a more effective fighter for progressive values in his second term than he was in the first? Yes, progressive leaders will have his back in the coming months, the straw poll indicated. But will he have ours?

This straw poll, done with Democracy Corps, reveals the feelings of a cross-section of the people who attended the conference, which attracts the most politically engaged progressives, from labor activists to community organizers. It should be taken with the grain of salt with which all straw polls should be taken, but it is an important data point nonetheless in determining what will drive political momentum in the months ahead.

Forty-nine percent of poll respondents said they were “less enthusiastic” about the presidential election than they were in 2008, while 51 percent were the same or more enthusiastic. But 90 percent of respondents said they would vote for President Obama, and 60 percent of those respondents said they were for Obama “strongly.” Only 24 percent said their vote for Obama was more a vote against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. And 61 percent believed that reelecting Obama and taking back the House should be the top priority of progressives in the coming months.

The straw poll makes it abundantly clear what issues progressives want President Obama to champion. Among poll respondents:

  • 87 percent agreed strongly “the first priority of Washington should be creating jobs.”
  • 89 percent agreed strongly that “we have not made the necessary reforms to keep Wall Street and too-big-to-fail banks from bringing down our economy again.”
  • 87 percent strongly support a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling.
  • 73 percent agreed strongly that the government should enable underwater homeowners to reduce the principal on their loans.

The message of the Take Back the American Dream conference is that the progressive movement in 2012 is committed to, and enthusiastic about, an agenda that puts ordinary Americans back to work, holds the institutions that wrecked the Main Street economy accountable for their actions and responsible for its restoration, and protects American democracy as the domain of all of the people, and not the purchased possession of the moneyed elite. President Obama has an opportunity to close the enthusiasm gap by closing the perceived gap between this progressive agenda and his actions in the White House.

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