WASHINGTON, D.C. —When it comes to the 2020 presidential election, Democrats are nervous wrecks and Republican excitement has grown.
That’s according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research as Americans look ahead to a high-stakes election that is 10 months away but still very much top of mind. While emotions could change in the coming months, the findings give Democrats one more worry to add to the list: Will anxiety or enthusiasm be a bigger motivator come November?
On the verge of the first votes being cast in a primary contest with no clear leader, 66% of Democrats report anxiety about the election, compared with 46% of Republicans. Democrats are also more likely to feel frustration. Republicans, meanwhile, are more likely than Democrats to declare excitement about the race, and the share of enthusiastic Republicans appears to be rising.
The findings aren’t surprising to anyone who’s talked to an undecided Democrat about the crowded primary field. Behind an intense desire to oust President Donald Trump, Democrats often describe deep uncertainty about what sort of candidate has the best chance and whether the party will be able to win the votes. There’s also hard division over policy and whispers about a contested convention. It can all feel a bit too much for some.
“I’m anxious and not really in a good way,” said James Horinek, 32, a Democrat in Lawton, Oklahoma, who works in marketing. “There’s division across the board — there’s too much on the Democratic side and too little on the Republican one.”
Republicans, meanwhile, appear to share less of that angst, while their party hangs together on impeachment, the economy and other major issues on Trump’s agenda.
“I am not nervous at all. I think Donald Trump will win it in a landslide,” said Clinton Adams, a 39-year-old custodian in the Florida Panhandle.
The poll found that 43% of Republicans say they’re excited about the election, up 10 percentage points from October. Meanwhile, 33% of Democrats reported excitement.
About three-quarters of both Democrats and Republicans say they are highly motivated to cast ballots this year. But that only raises the question of which emotion will be stronger in turning out the vote around the margins.
A party usually wants its voters excited rather than anxious, said George Marcus, a political scientist at Williams College who has studied the role of emotion in politics and polling. Marcus found that voters who report fear and anxiety are more likely to be confused and split their vote.
“It creates the possibility for persuasion,” Marcus said of voter worry. “If I’m an anxious Democrat, I may stay home, I may vote Republican. … You want your base to be either really angry at the other side or really enthusiastic.”
Still, Marcus noted Democrats have a long way to go before Election Day. The selection of a nominee could calm jitters and stir up excitement for a candidate. Events could also shift GOP voters’ confidence.
Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, said the contrast between GOP excitement and Democratic anxiety and frustration is not a surprise.
“In general, supporters of the party in power are going to be more optimistic and hopeful, while supporters of the party out of power are going to be frustrated and angry,” Greenberg said.
She also noted that Democrats have been stressed since Trump won the White House.
“Since Trump was elected, Democrats have been particularly anxious about both the idea of disinformation and election interference in 2020 and what could happen in a second Trump term,” Greenberg said. However, she added, “there is no evidence that Democrats are any less enthusiastic about voting in 2020, and the results of the 2018 election would suggest that they are highly motivated to vote.”
Indeed, the poll suggests that the feeling among Democrats might be a driver: About 9 in 10 anxious Democrats say they feel very motivated to vote this November, compared with about half of those who are not anxious.
Tim Farrell is one of those stressed-out Democrats who have been worried since Trump won in 2016. The 58-year-old social worker in Watertown, New York, says he’s been “ill for the last three years.”
He has little faith that voters will turn on Trump, but it’s the ongoing impeachment trial in the Republican-controlled Senate that’s raised his anxiety about November. “I’m dreading the expected outcome. He won’t be convicted,” Farrell said of the president.
Farrell expects to donate to whomever the party nominates, and indeed, that’s one way Democratic anxiety may help their party. Eighteen percent of anxious Democrats say they’ve donated, compared with 5% of those who are not anxious.
Domingo Rodriguez thinks these worries are ridiculous. The 75-year-old retired translator lives in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, and, though he’s not affiliated with either party, supports Trump. “I think Trump will win again. I’m not nervous,” Rodriguez said, chuckling as he thought about Democrats’ view of the election.
“They’re absolutely anxious. For them it’s a matter of life and death,” said Rodriguez, who emigrated from Uruguay decades ago. Not for him, though. “I know I’m going to be living and existing and being in the great United States even if the Democrats win.”
The AP-NORC poll of 1,353 adults was conducted Jan. 16-21 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.