Political Animal


January 11, 2012 8:35 AM The GOP’s turnout problem

By Steve Benen

Last week, underwhelming Republican turnout in the Iowa caucuses fell short of expectations and hinted at a listless, uninspired party. Yesterday in New Hampshire, it happened again.

Going into the first GOP primary, there was ample talk about the expected record turnouts. But as the dust settled, we learned otherwise.

Turnout in the early Republican nominating contests could be a warning sign for Romney: the participation rate in Iowa barely exceeded the state’s 2008 mark, when many GOP voters were disaffected and depressed. New Hampshire officials projected record turnout in Tuesday’s primary, but exit polls showed about two-fifths of the voters were non-Republicans who crossed over to participate.

Remember, Republican turnout was supposed to soar in these early contests. GOP voters are reportedly eager, if not foaming-at-the-mouth desperate, to fight a crusade against President Obama, and they had plenty of high-profile candidates trying to stoke their enthusiasm. For that matter, Romney actually lives part of the year in New Hampshire. These voters had a chance to vote for their neighbor.

This, coupled with the boost from the so-called Tea Party “movement,” suggested energized Republicans would turn out in numbers that far exceeded the totals we saw in 2008, when GOP voters were depressed and all the excitement was on the other side of the aisle.

And yet, in two contests in a row, that hasn’t happened.

The Romney campaign almost certainly won’t care, at least not publicly, but behind the scenes, the turnout numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire should give party leaders pause.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Ron Byers on January 11, 2012 8:47 AM:

    I was just watching Chris Matthews on Mourning Joe and according to Chris the Obamas should be inviting the
    Romneys in to measure the drapes.

    Romney's team is sooooo much better than Obama's bunch of propeller heads that there is just no way Obama is going to defeat Romney. America wants to return to the good old days (presumably the days under Bush) when they were riding high and that is what Romney promises.

  • Derek on January 11, 2012 8:48 AM:

    I find it rather frightening that 40% of the vote came from those not registered as Republicans. This is not a statistic that bodes well for the general election if it continues elsewhere (is NH an outlier perhaps?)

  • Perspecticus on January 11, 2012 8:48 AM:

    Steve, the Republican turnouts may be lower than expected, but the GOP no-shows seem to be being replaced by Dems and so-called independents who "crossover." To my recollection, the Iowa numbers were lower for registered Republicans, but the total turn out was larger than the previous cycle because of this crossover. My thought is, if Republican turnout is lower than expected in the general election, but the no-shows are replaced by crossover votes for Romney, Obama may have a serious problem on his hands.

    In short, are we seeing the dawning of the "Romney Democrat"?

  • Ron Byers on January 11, 2012 8:50 AM:

    I am with Derek. Obama has got to get out there and lead.

  • c u n d gulag on January 11, 2012 8:52 AM:

    The turnout is low because the candidates aren't Conservative enough!

    If they had a true Conservative running, then turnout would be gigantihugenormous!!!

    Oh, for a Zombie Reagan who didn't raise taxes, and didn't pull the troops out of Lebanon while doing good stuff like arming the Mullah's to pay for reactionary terrorists in Central America and using the profits to send coke to f*ck-up the black neighborhoods!

    THAT ZOMBIE REAGAN would win 100% of the vote!

  • B W Smith on January 11, 2012 8:56 AM:

    I think some of the cross-over from Dems is due to Ron Paul, who won't be a part of the General Election (maybe). I don't think we need to worry about "Romney Democrats." I think when the primaries move to the South, you will see higher turnout. The South is the home of the fire-breathing Obama haters.

  • T2 on January 11, 2012 8:58 AM:

    the enthusiasm in 2010 GOP elections was from the newly minted (or Demint-ed, or demented) TeaBag voters. Hard Right and Christian..... Romney is seen by that group as neither.

  • Danp on January 11, 2012 9:07 AM:

    exit polls showed about two-fifths of the voters were non-Republicans who crossed over to participate.

    According to MSNBC's exit polls, 47% said that before yesterday they were either unregistered or registered as Independent/Undeclared. Dem was not an option.

  • Pal2008 on January 11, 2012 9:09 AM:

    Maybe the self described independents are just republicans too embarrassed to admit belonging to the republican tribe. These people are not well.

  • Richard Fox on January 11, 2012 9:09 AM:

    I always scratch my head at people who write the President needs to "lead".
    What, getting Bin Laden wasn't leading? The toppling of a Libyan dictator on his watch without any American lives lost wasn't leading? Making the auto industry rebound through propping them up after near bankruptcy isn't leading? Guiding the end of DADT through deft persistence wasn't leading? Getting a second stimulus (though not touted as such) through the budget deals last year wasn't leading? Getting Insurance reform through and passed by Congress wasn't leading?
    (And yes having young people on their parent's policies till age 26 and the end of preexisting conditions getting one dropped by their insurance is a big reform.)
    He spent much political capital on health care reform; but did it because it was the right thing to tackle. That is leadership, in my view. Followed through best as he could on his promises.
    The man's style is not bombastic, but leadership in my view usually isn't. But as for lack of leadership-- that is just absurd. I am happy to vote for him again. Have a good one, all.

  • Robert Curtis on January 11, 2012 9:10 AM:

    The election media narrative has to be one that builds a race up to be closer than it seems or the they cannot wring the greatest amount of advertising dollars from all interested parties.

  • Socko80 on January 11, 2012 9:13 AM:


    "Romney democrats?"

    Um, no. Most of the independents, and democrats that turned out in New Hampshire voted for Ron Paul. Same as in Iowa. Ron Paul always gets the most cross-over voters.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on January 11, 2012 9:15 AM:

    Just a guess, but I'd venture that many cross-over NH democrats probably voted for Huntsman. Here's a guy who polls in the low single digits, but got almost 17% last night.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 11, 2012 9:24 AM:

    GOP voters are reportedly eager, if not foaming-at-the-mouth desperate, to fight a crusade against President Obama, and they had plenty of high-profile candidates trying to stoke their enthusiasm.

    And yet, in two contests in a row, that hasn't happened.

    Well can you blame 'em. Who the hell races to a buffet of cold spam and burnt toast? Their choices ain't exactly appetizing...

  • Perspecticus on January 11, 2012 9:30 AM:

    Thanks, socko. For some inexplicable reason, i forgot about Ron Paul.

  • Michigander on January 11, 2012 10:03 AM:

    Isn't is it possible that Democrats crossed over to vote in the Republican primary just because they could & maybe to vote for the anti-Ronmey?

    In Michigan in 2000, then Governor John Engler (R) promised to deliver the state to W. The Republicans held an open primary (the last time they did that) and thousands of Democrats turned out to vote for John McCain, who won handily. And greatly embarrassed the governor in the process.

    Captcha: I did yinrin carefully, but what did it get me?

  • RLNoman on January 11, 2012 10:06 AM:

    "Where Bush proposed his tax cuts to spend down a surplus..."

    At long (long long long) last can't we stop taking any policies of Bush the Lesser's administration as earnest and sincere? Bush & the GOP congress cut taxes in order to cut taxes. On the rich. Period. Full stop. If he'd inherited a deficit, he'd still want to cut taxes. On the rich.

  • zandru on January 11, 2012 10:30 AM:

    Thank you,Richard Fox

    As the Republicans seem to be depressing their own turnout, our goal should be to get Democrats to the polls - and out supporting better Democratic candidates for the House and Senate.

  • zandru on January 11, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Why Did Democrats Participate?

    Several folks commented on the high level (40%?!??!) of Democratic participation in the NH primary. This number may be high and probably includes non-aligned, low-info voters ("independents" in the parlance) - but why did they come out and vote for Republicans in the first place?

    On NPR earlier in the week, one of the self-proclaimed Dems said she was voting for Republicans because she was disappointed by the President and his Democratic Congress. (Talk about your "low info"...)

    Are other Dems monkey-wrenching? I think that's a significant question. After all, Limbaugh and his ilk have been urging the wingnutters to do it since 2008 (at least).

    And if so, why wouldn't they go for Bachmann?

  • bigtuna on January 11, 2012 10:56 AM:

    I get the game that is played - "win" Iowa, "win" NH, look good, get the big Mo., etc., spin, spin.

    But, if one steps back and looks at this objectively, why does the press suck up the conventional message? Romney basically lives in NH. How much money, and how much time, did he spend there? he got 96,000 votes. The next four clowns go about 150,000 votes. I know, there is a splitting of the opposition vote, Ron paul won't break 25%, etc.

    In 2008, Romney had 75,000 votes, coming in 2nd. So the guy works his nads off for 4 yrs for ... 21,000 votes more in his home state?!!? This seems a trifle weak to me ...

    While I think he is completely loony, why doesn't the MSM mention the Paul thing? 56,000 votes! Are there really that many people that want to return to a gold standard, repeal the civil rights acts, and pray to the alter of Hayek?

  • exlibra on January 11, 2012 11:06 AM:

    Ron Byers, @8:47,

    Yeah, sure; the Romneys are ready to move into the WH, because their team is evah so much better. Hah! How about this:
    This is someone who doesn't even have anyone trying to primary him; he is just so detail oriented that he doesn't leave any "i"s un-dotted and "t"s uncrossed. And *that* is supposed to be the weaker team? I just hope they continue to believe it.

    As for crossovers... Virginia has open primaries and I'm planning to crossover twice -- once for the presidential (Super Tuesday) and then again, for the Repub Senatorial. Anything that weakens the all-but-crowned clown (whoever it is) is good, IMO. Doesn't mean I'm gonna vote for that clown in November.

  • Skip on January 11, 2012 11:32 AM:

    I heard an excellent interview on NPR's Tell Me More last night. Michelle talked to Phyllis Schlafly who was about to attend the Conservative Rally in Texas where wealthy Republicans will decide which candidate to put their money and influence behind (rather than, as Michelle put it, let the voters decide). Ms. Schlafly just lost her candidate of choice, Michelle Bachmann, who, when asked what she admired about her, twice, said Ms. Bachmann was articulate, twice. (so if one speaks well and is not black, they can be president?) She would not be pressed on her next choice until after the rally.

    Ms. Schlafly gave her website as eagleforum.org and I visited it. Very interesting. She's been named as one of the top 100 women by Lady's Home Journal (yes, LHJ) and I plan to follow her. I believe she is one of the Republican king-makers and her website is a wealth of information that might be of use in pinning down and countering Republican talking points.

  • Sean on January 11, 2012 7:17 PM:

    Not only is the GOP electorate supposed to be desperate to rid the country of the "Obama menace" at any cost, we've had the longest primary season I can remember, and it's been covered more obsessively. After 18 (I think) debates and nonstop chatter from the 24 hour news channels since at least the beginning of last summer, you'd think this would be the most motivated and most informed group of GOP primary voters since 1980, at least. On a purely self-interested scale, you'd think that folks in Iowa and NH would at least realize that they could get on TV just by doing their civic duty.

    If I were a Republican, I'd be very worried. One suggestion for the cause: outrage exhaustion. I've noticed a downward tick in chain emails over the last few months. Perhaps the faux scandal of the day approach is backfiring on them?