How Trump’s ‘enthusiasm factor’ could lead to another surprise win on Election Day

“It was mind-boggling,” said Charles Ryan. “I’m out on my boat, there’s thousands of people, and every one of them has this big smile. I’ve never seen such happiness. It was infectious.”

Four flags fluttered from the stern of Ryan’s runabout on Sept. 5 as he motored through New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay: the Stars and Stripes, a “Blue Lives Matter” banner, and a pair of streamers honoring President Donald J. Trump.

“One of them says ‘Trump: No More Bulls–t,’” said Ryan, of New Hope, Pa. “I’m not into flying anything too vulgar.”

As Ryan’s boat joined at least 2,000 other watercraft for the Trump Law and Order Boat Parade, the same scene was playing out in dozens of harbors, rivers and lakes from the Jersey Shore to San Diego that Labor Day weekend.

One week later, on Sept. 12, more than 16,000 cars, pickups, motorcycles and semis festooned with banners and bunting jammed Cincinnati’s I-275 beltway in a convoy that looped through three states, one of several Trump car caravans being organized on Facebook. Meanwhile, an unknown fan in Norwell, Mass., stenciled “Trump 2020” in bright yellow letters across the travel lanes of busy Route 3 (Highway crews quickly painted over the message.)

Public displays of exuberant affection for Trump have been building for months now, but they reached a fervent new pitch when the president came down with COVID-19.

As hundreds of well-wishers gathered outside Trump’s hospital suite at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., last weekend, New Yorkers, too, took to the streets.

More than 700 decorated vehicles converged on Albany Oct. 3 in a parade to honor the ailing president. In Staten Island, 2,500 Trump fans filmed a raucous get-well message that racked up 6 million views on Twitter. On Fifth Avenue, Trump supporters drove a contingent of flag-flying trucks to stage an impromptu rally outside Trump Tower.

“It was a direct message from ‘we the people’ to President Trump,” said Yvonne Gasperino of Harrison, NY, who helped organize the Albany caravan. “The consensus from all was that COVID-19 didn’t stand a chance against him.”

“Meanwhile, Biden’s enthusiasm level is historically low — so low that the Democrats run the risk of replaying 2016,” Baris said.

Just 46 percent of Biden voters in a recent Pew poll said that they strongly support him, compared to 66 percent of Trump’s base.

Their bond with Trump in most cases has only grown stronger . . .

Rank-and-file Dems are sounding the alarm.

“I look out over my Biden sign in my front yard and I see a sea of Trump flags and yard signs,” Pennsylvania voter Susan Connors told Biden worriedly at a CNN-sponsored town hall Sept. 17.

Experienced political hands have a saying: “Yard signs don’t vote.” And research appears to bear that out — a 2016 study found that political signage increases vote share by a mere 1.7 percentage points, on average.

Biden holds a 10-point lead in the RealClearPolitics national polling average, a commanding position with Election Day less than four weeks away. But the exuberant signs and displays of Trump passion may actually point to a yawning enthusiasm gap that could make a big difference on Election Day — just as they did in 2016.

Four years ago, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found a 13-point enthusiasm gap in Trump’s favor, a result echoed by other surveys, The Hill reported.

“Many people . . . said that the sheer volume of Trump signs they saw in 2016 — and the scarcity of Hillary Clinton signs — was their first clue that the polling was wrong and that Trump would have more success than the pundits had predicted,” Daniel Allott writes in “On the Road in Trump’s America: A Journey into the Heart of a Divided Nation” (Republic Books), out Oct. 20.

Allott’s book is the result of three years’ worth of interviews with swing voters in counties that were difference-makers in the 2016 election.

“Their bond with Trump in most cases has only grown stronger, because of the bashing he has taken from the media elite, cultural elite, Hollywood, pro sports — everyone these people feel belittled by,” Allott told The Post. “The very fact he is getting attacked makes them his allies.”

That loyalty is the engine driving Trump supporters’ election-season outpourings, agreed flotilla boater Ryan.

“This guy is constantly getting dragged by a press that is so obviously leaning the other way,” Ryan said. “If everything was reported fairly, I don’t think you’d see this level of overt support. Because we wouldn’t feel like we had to.”

Voters tend to turn out more reliably, and in greater numbers, when they are enthusiastic about casting a ballot for their candidate — not when their prime motivation is an opponent’s defeat, Baris said.

In three out of the last five presidential races, the winner carried a strong enthusiasm advantage throughout the campaign. Trump in 2016 was one of those victors.

Hillary Clinton’s backers pooh-poohed the 13-point enthusiasm edge Trump held over her in September 2016, mistakenly believing that her data-driven, big-spending campaign would win out.

Trump’s base has maintained similarly superior enthusiasm over Biden’s throughout the 2020 election cycle, according to several national polls released this month. The IBD/TIPP poll of Oct. 2 found an 8-point differential between the 74 percent of “strong” Trump voters and the 66 percent of Biden voters saying the same. And in a YouGov poll released last month, 75 percent of Trump voters said their vote is mostly motivated by support for him, as opposed to 43 percent of Biden voters.

Baris’ Sept. 18 poll of the Rust Belt states — Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota — found a 16-point intensity differential: 61 percent of Trump’s voters there are extremely enthusiastic about voting for him, compared to 45 percent of Biden’s supporters.

In many parts of those states, evidence of fervor for 45 is ubiquitous, with Trump vehicle caravans set to hit local highways every weekend in October. In Latrobe, Pa., local volunteers maintain a “Trump House” that’s done up like Old Glory, with a 14-foot steel Trump cutout on the lawn and a likeness of Joe Biden poking his head out of the basement storm door. In Port Clinton, Ohio, a homeowner used 150 gallons of paint to transform his entire yard into a giant Trump pennant.

Even tiny Fredericksburg, Ohio, got into the act with a Sept. 19 Amish for Trump parade featuring cattle, horses and traditional buggies, one sporting a most untraditional banner reading “Trump 2020: Make Liberals Cry Again.”

“My contacts in these swing counties say the Trump signs are out in full force,” Allott said. “Howard County, Iowa, the only county in America that voted for Barack Obama by more than 20 points in 2012 and Trump by more than 20 points in 2016, is covered with Trump signs, not a single Biden sign.”

The Biden campaign chalks the lack of signage up to their reliance on a digital field campaign in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept them from opening the usual local campaign offices in crucial electoral battlegrounds. “In one of the most important swing states in the country, Biden’s campaign is all but invisible to the naked eye,” Time magazine reported.

Incumbency, meanwhile, also confers additional enthusiasm advantages.

“Voters usually come out to defend their president,” Baris said. “In 2012, that saved Obama in a number of states: Black women’s enthusiasm for him was so high, he held on. In typical election years, extreme enthusiasm gaps this large can prove very consequential to turnout.”

But for all the overt enthusiasm, a chunk of Trump’s support remains undercover.

“There should be even more signage, based on the enthusiasm we see in our polling,” Baris said. “But a lot of people are afraid.”

“It’s because of the intolerance of the left,” said Beth Freeman of Verona, NJ, who sailed in two Trump boat parades this summer. “I would never put up a Trump sign here in Essex County. People who do support Trump are afraid to show it — afraid their house will get egged or something. It’s really sad.”

In many parts of the country, this summer’s sometimes violent street demonstrations have cast a pall over political expression, Baris said.

“We spoke to a store owner in central Florida who had pro-Trump signs all over it in 2016,” Baris said. “Not this year. Now he told us he’s afraid of getting a brick through the window.”

The fear of street violence is another reason why flotillas and car caravans have taken off, Ryan added.

“We’re safe out there,” he said. “It sounds so sick to say that. But these extremists, these rioters, they can’t get to us out there.”

And it only intensifies the resentment that Trump voters feel toward the elites who — as Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment revealed — hold them in disdain.

“In the Trump era, there’s a lot of social pressure not to identify as a Trump supporter,” said Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who runs the Instapundit politics blog. “When people brave that pressure, it can gather its own momentum” — touching off what’s known as a preference cascade.

“A preference cascade happens when you have a lot of people concealing their true beliefs because of social or government pressure,” explained Reynolds, who has studied the phenomenon. “They keep concealing their feelings until something triggers them to see they’re not alone.

“It’s like the old story of the emperor’s new clothes,” he said. “You see rapid changes in behavior, in public expression and in attitudes, because what was already there has been revealed.”

An overnight shift in public opinion fueled Ronald Reagan’s shocking 10-point landslide in 1980, for example, despite election-eve polls that pegged the race as too close to call.

“I thought it may have some influence on people who feel they are alone,” he said. “They’re watching on the sidelines, so afraid to say what they really think.

“I went out there to say, ‘No, there are a hundred million of us out here, and you are one of us.’ ”

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