Winning an election is often about getting your supporters to turn out, rather than trying to change people's minds. So strategists want to get voters thinking about the election early and often.
That's why this new poll released Monday from the Pew Research Center might offer hope to Republicans:
The first thing that sticks out is how much more Republicans are engaged in this campaign compared with the 2008 election. This is largely driven by a record-setting debate season and the constant media attention around Donald Trump. But the other thing is how interest is up all around — how it's not just Republicans who have been swept up by this hectic GOP primary.
The Trump effect is undeniable
That 12-point jump in Republicans who are giving at least some thought to the candidates is huge, but not unexpected. Donald Trump's impact on this election cycle is undeniable, not only from the anecdotally large amount of news coverage he garners, but also the record viewership he has brought to the Republicans debates.
Simon Rosenberg, a former Democratic National Committee official, told me after the last round of debates that he's concerned Republicans are getting a huge amount of free media early in the cycle, while the anemic Democratic debate schedule squanders this opportunity. And it's about more than who becomes president.
"By forgoing hundreds of millions of dollars of free media ... to get partisans fired up about the presidential race, senate races, congressional races, statewide races, etc., the real losers are going to be the down-ballot races," he said.
Democrats are slightly more interested than last election, too
The Trump effect might also be translating over to Democrats, who are more interested at this point in the election than at the same point in 2007, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still in a tight race for the nomination.
Still, a poll this November found that Democrat-aligned groups — minorities, millennials, and single women — are less engaged in this election than GOP-aligned ones. In addition, the Democrats won't get too many more opportunities to control news cycles with debates; they only have four more remaining, including one this Saturday, and they've been scheduled on days people don't traditionally watch debates:
But this poll also suggests that the future might be better for the Democrats. If Trump really is the core reason that all partisans are more engaged with this election, then Trump winning the nomination could also increase Democratic interest, as we're already seeing in these polls — especially if Democrats begin casting Trump as the villain, versus one of many. And if Trump isn't the nominee, then Republican interest could wane.
More people have watched a debate, but who are they?
The Pew poll also says 69 percent of people have watched any presidential debate this cycle, compared with just 43 percent at the same point in the 2008 election. Just think about it: If you're at dinner with 10 people, seven of them could talk to you about a debate in some engaged manner, versus just four of them in 2008.
And this is after just six debates.
At this point in 2008, there had already been 25 debates.
Nielsen ratings for this cycle hint that the majority of these viewers are Republicans, since Democratic debates haven't performed nearly as well.