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January 04, 2012 9:30 AM Why the turnout totals matter

By Steve Benen

This was supposed to be a big year for Republican voter turnout in Iowa. With GOP voters reportedly eager as part of their crusade against President Obama, and with six candidates spending over $13 million to generate some excitement, party insiders predicted 130,000 Iowans would participate.

As Dave Weigel reported, that’s not quite what happened.

Four years ago, a depressed GOP went to the precinct caucuses, very well aware that Democrats had all the energy. The total GOP vote: 119,188. This year, Republicans should be psyched about the chance to uproot Barack Obama. There will be something above 122,000 total votes. An improvement, right? Well … in 2008, 86 percent of the people who chose the GOP caucuses were Republicans. This year, 75 percent of the electorate was Republican, with the rest of the vote coming from independents and Democrats. What the hell happened?

Dave wrote that around 2 a.m., so I’ll just note for the record that the final tally was 122,255 votes cast. Yes, that barely surpassed the 2008 totals, but it fell short of expectations, and the larger circumstances suggest this year should have been much better — if Iowa Republicans turned out 119,000 when they were depressed and uninspired, turning out 122,000 when they’re supposed to be fired up, and bolstered by the Tea Party “movement,” represents something of a setback.

Indeed, John Avlon called last night’s participation numbers an “ominous sign.”

Republicans are counting on an enthusiasm gap to get ahead in 2012. It’s only one contest, of course, but at this point, there’s reason to question just how much enthusiasm exists within the GOP base.

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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  • Danp on January 04, 2012 9:43 AM:

    I have yet to find an "enthusiastic" Republican. The mantra seems to be "anybody but Obama," or "anybody but Obama or Romney." For the former, what's the incentive to vote in a caucus/primary.

  • c u n d gulag on January 04, 2012 9:43 AM:

    Mittens, they're just not that into you. They'd love to quit you.

    Let's see what happens in NH and SC.

    If turnout there remains low, then FOX will have to take the bullsh*t by the horns, and start manufacturing even more and bigger nonsense.

    But, where do they go?

    I said a long time ago, when I looked at them accusing Obama of being a CommunistSocialistAtheistHeathenMuslimFascistMaoHitler from the black, black heart of Kenya, that they were spending too much rage back then, and what would they have left at crunch-time in 2012?

    After you've done all of that, and even fired that precious "Who the hell puts mustard on a damn hamburger?" shot, what do you really have left to fire-up a very flammable base that wants to burn with rage?

    Enquiring minds want to know - after you've pretty much accused him of being the worlds strongest wussy, and the weakest strongman - basically Hitler in a tu-tu - what do you have left?

  • Gretchen on January 04, 2012 9:45 AM:

    There probably weren't very many Democrats voting in the 2008 Republican caucus, since there was an interesting Democratic race. This year, more Democrats probably crossed over and picked the candidate they considered easiest to beat - Santorum.

  • Ron Byers on January 04, 2012 9:56 AM:

    I made the same point last evening, but not as well. Iowa Republican officials still proudly crowed that it was a "record" turnout, but really, Iowa has been ground zero for the last 6 months. This is the year for which Mitch McConnell has been holding the recovery back the last three years and they can only generate a little over 120,000 voters many of whom were Democrat and Independent crossovers. I read predictions of 150,000 voters. In the event, not so much.

  • T2 on January 04, 2012 9:58 AM:

    Gretchen has a point. But look at Romney....same old 25% he's had the whole time. Cross-overs or not, that leaves 75% of the caucus goers voting for someone else. Hard to see that as a big victory. In the general, the question is simple: Will the Evangelicals be told to vote for the Cultist or not. IF Mitt gets the nomination, soft support from the TeaBaggers that don't feel Mitt is hard-core enough, and very tepid support from the Nut Evangelicals could hand three/four purple states to Obama. From what I see, the only thing going for the GOP is racial hatred. Hopefully thats not enough in these times to elect Romney.

  • zeitgeist on January 04, 2012 10:01 AM:

    the real killer for those numbers is when you run the math through on non-Republicans each of the two years. total attendance set a record, but the number of Republicans was actually down -- and Mitt cant spin that into having crossover appeal because most of those were Paul voters. On the other hand, Santorum can use that to his advantage: while he "lost" the caucuses, he actually had more Republican votes than Romney which, in a Republican nominating contest, may be a useful line.

  • jsjiowa on January 04, 2012 10:03 AM:

    The way I looked at the CNN polling, the independents and Dems who went to the Republican caucuses last night appeared primarily to be Ron Paul supporters. Dem caucuses were not as well attended as 2008, but exceeded party expectations last night, for the most part (overflow crowds at a couple I know of).

    It seems to me that Republicans aren't enthusiastic about Romney, but they are resigning themselves to settle for Romney, in much the same way they resigned themselves to supporting McCain in 2008. I think the CNN data shows that, too. It was illustrated to me yesterday by my boss, who tried to deliver a less-than-convincing rationale for why she was going to support Romney last night (she's a former Republican state legislator, in the "establishment" mode). I saw her excitement last summer when Perry was thinking of getting in the race, but also saw her disapointment when he failed to measure up in debates. Republicans would like someone who fires them up, but no one has emerged like that.

    The interesting story could be what Gingrich does to Romney (at least, until he runs out of money). That battle got intensely personal after the negative barrage of ads that Romney's SuperPAC ran against Gingrich in Iowa. How often do you see one candidately openly call another a liar? Yet, it's not getting a lot of attention this morning.

  • Danp on January 04, 2012 10:04 AM:

    Will the Evangelicals be told to vote for the Cultist or not.

    Will Avon ladies continue to sell Avon? Unless they find another source of income, they will.

  • jlt on January 04, 2012 10:05 AM:

    Mitt got fewer votes than in 2008, 36% were from households that earn over $100,000....

    The bastion of caucus goers are diehards...and they did not turn out in numbers...Iowa has picked the nominee once in the past 3 decades. GWB! The second place spent 1/16 the $$$$ that mitt spent..Mitt has been given a vetting pass because the voter wanted anyone but mitt! 75% of the voters still want anyone but him!

    SCarolina will be a test..by then the news will be filled with the vetting of mitt! Exspect a firestorm!

  • T2 on January 04, 2012 10:18 AM:

    Danp, I tend to agree with you. As much as the Evangelicals think Mitt is a non-Christian cultist, they can see he is white.

  • slappy magoo on January 04, 2012 10:53 AM:

    So 119,188 people voted in 2008, and 85% percent of them was registered Republicans before going into the caucus. 101,310 people (rounded up a vote).

    This year,122,255 votes were cast, but only 75% was from registered Republicans. 91,691 (rounded down a vote).

    Now, maybe those 3000+ new voters are totally disillusioned indies or Dems who just had to switch to the right to takt a stand on our socialist fascist terrorist blackist President.

    Maybe some of them are first time voters?

    Maybe some of them are rabble rousers on the left looking to sway the outcome.

    The GOP should hope it's 1 or 2, because if it's 3, then less actual Republicans voted this caucus than last.

  • CRhetts on January 04, 2012 11:55 AM:

    Its no secret what's happening here. Since their defeat in 08, the Republicans' simple minded strategy has been to define political wisdom as simply opposing whatever policies Barak Obama proposes. And you have to search high and low to find any candidate who doesn't have in his or her record a history of agreeing with Obama on many of the issues which have become crucial to this definition.

    I don't think anyone actually believes Romney's flip flops are an accurate reflection of what he honestly believes. No sane person would just, as if by coincidence, suddenly walk back so many of the bedrock princples he stood for before the emergence of the Tea Party.

    Bottom line: Republicans are having to face either voting for the least obvious hypocrite, and therefore losing the general election, or holding their noses and voting for Romney, who (incredibly) has the best chance of winning.

    I don't know about you guys, but so far, watching this train wreck has been a rare treat!

  • Sean Scallon on January 04, 2012 12:12 PM:

    "with the rest of the vote coming from independents and Democrats."

    A lot of Paul supporters in that crowd. If you say he's unelectable, why does he have such pull-over support

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