When then-junior Sen. Barack Obama came to the University of Denver in 2008, the Democratic presidential hopeful was greeted by long lines and a crowd full of youthful enthusiasm. And while his return to the state for tonight's appearance at the University of Colorado at Boulder more than four years later has produced similarly long waits for tickets, the other response — enthusiasm — is lurching along.That's the first paragraph. Let that sink in for a second. The one piece of hard evidence we have so far that would allow us to measure student enthusiasm -- long lines to obtain tickets -- suggests just as much enthusiasm as existed four years ago. So where's the evidence that there's less enthusiasm?
Maybe the evidence lies in the quotes? The article includes quotes from four CU students. The first is unapologetically pro-Obama. The second describes Boulder as pro-Obama. The third, an officer in the campus Republican group, is vaguely critical of Obama, and the fourth is somewhat lukewarm toward Obama. This is the basis for a conclusion that enthusiasm is waning? (The other quotes are from a political consultant and a political scientist seeking to explain the enthusiasm gap for which there is no evidence.)
Oh, the article also cites a study showing that fewer than half of younger voters are "absolutely certain" about whom they will vote for in November, but that doesn't really tell us anything about enthusiasm or expected voter turnout.
So, to review: the quantitative evidence suggests that there's just as much enthusiasm for Obama as there was four years ago, and the qualitative evidence is mixed. I'd love to know how the author or the headline writer reached their conclusions.
Now, this isn't to say that enthusiasm for Obama isn't down since 2008 -- it may very well be, although this article certainly hasn't provided the evidence to support that conclusion. But to the extent we're seeing fewer Obama stickers on backpacks and laptops this year than we did in 2008, we might note an important contextual difference: the lack of a primary opponent. I had several students take leave four years ago to volunteer in Democratic contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Ohio. The fact that they're not doing so this year has less to do with an enthusiasm gap than the lack of Democratic contests in those states. My guess is that enthusiasm will be running plenty high on both sides come September.