Enthusiasm matters in grassroots activism. So does determination. Having both, at the same time, is not easy … but it’s sometimes essential. (More)

By now you’ve doubtless read about the Pew Research poll showing Mitt Romney leading by 4 points, and today’s SEIU/PPP survey will will also show Romney leading. First, set aside the horse race numbers. In both polls, most of the surveys were conducted last Thursday and Friday, with fewer on the weekend. In short, they reflect the debate but not Friday’s exceptionally strong jobs report. Instead, let’s look at the inside numbers from the Pew poll:

  • Who won the debate? – Voters overwhelmingly thought Romney won the debate. Yes, Romney won by telling more lies than could be refuted, but even President Obama admitted he had a bad night.
  • Candidates’ characteristics – Although Romney drew even with President Obama on the question “Who is a strong leader,” the president still leads on questions of honesty, consistency, and connecting to ordinary Americans.
  • On the issues – The survey found Romney leading on the issues of jobs, the budget, and the deficit, but the president leading on Medicare, health care, and foreign policy.
  • On the middle class – Romney drew even with President Obama on whose policies would help the middle class, but those gains came from respondents with household incomes over $75,000.
  • Romney’s reliability – Most likely voters, including 75% of independents, say Romney is promising more than he can deliver. And most, including 66% of independents, say it’s hard to know what he really stands for.

The New York Times‘ Nate Silver still shows President Obama a 3:1 favorite as of last night, in part because an improving economy boosts the advantage of incumbents. So we need to keep polls in perspective, as Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall notes:

We should also resist the weak human tendency to recast our entire understanding of the reality we see through the prism of polling data. This doesn’t mean not believing what the polls tell us. I mean inferring everything back from them. So Mr. X is a genius and doing great. Until the polls change in which case Mr. X is a moron.

This isn’t clear or good thinking.

Indeed the hand-wringing over this week’s Pew and PPP polls is the exact opposite of the more careful reasoning we discussed last week. It’s also counterproductive, especially for grassroots activists. Poll results like these are inevitable, if for no other reason than random statistical noise. The Pew Poll probably isn’t that, but neither is it the be-all and end-all. Remember, debate winners usually gain in the polls after a debate, but only three first-debate winners in the last seven presidential races went on to win the election.

In short, we grassroots activists have to be determined and keep doing our work. We can’t slack off when the polls show President Obama and Democrats have substantial leads, and we can’t slack off when those leads tighten or even reverse.

On the other hand, the voters we talk to over these next four weeks won’t respond well to calls made with steely determination or, worse, panicked desperation. They need to hear our enthusiasm.

We have plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic. President Obama’s first term record is impressive, as much so this morning as it was a week ago, and we must emphasize that with voters. We must also listen and respond to the issues that matter to the voters we call: from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensuring we care for our wounded when they get home, from women’s health and equal pay to college affordability to marriage equality to, yes, Big Bird and PBS. On these issues and many more, President Obama and Democrats reflect the core values that built and sustained our nation … as much so this morning as they did a week ago.

So I’ll ask you to do the same thing I asked of the members of my local Democratic Party last night. For the next four weeks, make 40 calls per day. That takes about an hour. If you do that every day, by election day you’ll have made over 1000 calls. My local party members agreed to that, and each took a packet with 1000 contacts and a call script. By election day we’ll have called every young Democratic woman in my county, and most of the young Democratic men.

Your local Democratic Party – select your state from the menu at that site – may have a similar program. You can also volunteer at President Obama’s campaign website, or Democracy for America.

You may think you’re just one person, and what difference can you make. But the voters you talk to will talk to their friends and family, their coworkers and neighbors. The calls you make will reach more people than the voices you hear. One voice can echo a long way:

“Fired up, ready to go” is not just a slogan. It’s an attitude, a choice to act with determined enthusiasm. That’s what we need for the next four weeks … from you.