While it’s the Republicans who keep bewailing their presidential candidates, a new Gallup poll is excellent news for whichever crackpot or pretend-crackpot wins the Republican nomination:

In thinking about the 2012 presidential election, 45% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, while nearly as many, 44%, are less enthusiastic. This is in sharp contrast to 2008 and, to a lesser extent, 2004, when the great majority of Democrats expressed heightened enthusiasm about voting.

That enthusiasm peaked at 73 percent in 2004 and 79 percent in 2008. This week’s numbers look more like 2000, when “more enthusiastic” Democratic responders peaked at 40 percent. That enthusiasm gap – far more than Ralph Nader’s two percent – cost Al Gore an election he should have won in a walk, in a time with the most peace and prosperity the U.S. has seen in a generation (at least). Obama, needless to say, doesn’t have that advantage.

It gets worse:

The difference between Democrats’ enthusiasm and Republicans’ enthusiasm can be summarized by plotting the difference in the two groups’ net enthusiasm scores — that is, the percentage of each group saying they are more enthusiastic minus the percentage less enthusiastic.

Democrats’ net enthusiasm (+1) now trails Republicans’ net enthusiasm (+28) by 27 percentage points. By contrast, Democrats held the advantage on net enthusiasm throughout 2008 — on several occasions, by better than 40-point margins….The current balance of enthusiasm among Republicans and Democrats is similar to what Gallup found in the first few months of 2000.

This seems, basically, like a quantification of common sense. It’s no secret that Obama isn’t firing up his base, which is angry with him for any number of reasons above and beyond the ongoing financial morass which would normally doom any re-election effort. We’ve seen it in this past month in the tepid public response to the Obama jobs bill. The White House has been trying without a lot of real visible success to whip up both public and congressional enthusiasm for Obama’s bill – a program which, while constrained by both Obama’s temperment and political reality, would still do a lot to improve many real lives in concrete, meaningful ways.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have generally involved a few hundred people at a time, have been sucking up enormous progressive media oxygen, pro and con, in the last week – far more than the jobs bill is getting, for an action that has no concrete outcome in mind and that will, even if highly successful, directly, materially improve the lives of nobody. (It would make some of us feel better, however…)

There are a lot of reasons for this contrasting reception. Probably the biggest was teased out by another recent Gallup poll: a record number of Americans, not just those on the right, no longer thinks government can solve our problems. That isn’t just necessarily an ideological disposition: it is also, among many on the left, an assessment that the Democrats, as now personified by Obama, can’t solve our problems, and the Republicans, as personified by an endless teevee parade of lunatics treated as though they are sober and sane, could not care less about them.

Candidate Obama in 2008 was the best example in a generation of the political truism that optimism sells. In 2012, nobody is optimistic. Both Obama and his eventual opponent will be running primarily on the appeal that they’re not their opponent. The difference is that for the Republican nominee, anybody other than Romney or Huntsman will have an enthusiastic base who knows, despite the general election nods to centrism, that He (or She) Is One Of Us.

In 2011, almost nobody is saying that about Obama. Now, 12 months is a long time in politics, and Obama will have a lot of money to polish his image. He is a prodigiously talented campaigner, too. But most Americans’ impressions of him, for better or worse, are pretty set at this point – a point in which Democrats are a lot less enthusiastic about their guy than Republicans are about whomever their nominee might be. And if poll results hold, it’s also bad news for the Democrats’ hopes of holding onto either the House or Senate.

Unless Obama can change a lot of perceptions of him in the next year, the fact that electing a Republican is the surest way to destroy what’s left of the economic well-being of most of the country won’t be just Obama’s best argument. It will be his only argument.

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