Let's set aside who's ahead and who's behind in the U.S. presidential election and instead look at how interest in 2012 stacks up against previous years.
For example, "how much thought have you given to the coming presidential election" is a question asked last week and in previous early October election years (data source here).
Year a Lot
As you can see, while this year is a bit lower than the excitement of Barack Obama in 2008, it stacks up well in comparison with previous years. I'd call this, at worst, an average year.
Is this an enthusiasm gap? Certainly compared to the Obama phenomenon of 2008, but overall 2012 compares pretty well with previous elections. When asked if they plan to vote, respondents score as high this year as earlier. Yes, people overestimate their turnout, but it's telling that the numbers are essentially identical to the last four presidential elections.
There is emotion out there. Among Mitt Romney supporters, 31 percent feel strongly toward him. That compares favorably to the 21 percent in early October 2008 who felt strongly toward John McCain. Even Obama is not doing too badly. Thirty-two percent feel strongly about him this year, down a bit from 36 percent who felt that way in 2008. Want bad? Kerry had only 24 percent back in 2004 who felt strongly for him.
The takeaway? This is not a down year. Indeed, it seems to compare well to previous years. That bodes well for turnout, though it's hard to imagine it'll be as high in 2008.