Thursday, February 18, 2016

Time to worry about Democratic turnout?

Rmuse of PoliticsUSA in Democrats Are In Serious Trouble After Iowa and New Hampshire 02/17/2016 sounds like a cynical Blue Dog Democrat circa 1990, wearily certain that only if Democrats pose as barely modified Republicans do they have even a slim chance of winning the Presidency.

But he does make an important observation here:

Despite the errant hype about how energized the left is to put their champion in the White House, and a populist movement never before seen in American history, in both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary Republicans garnered significantly more votes than Democrats who were ‘super energized’ and enthusiastic. In fact, in both Iowa and New Hampshire numbers for Democrats were well below what they were in 2008. What should terrify Democrats even more is the Republican turnout in New Hampshire nearly broke the record set by Democrats in 2008 that was a record year of incredibly high voter turnout for Democrats.

If, as one suspects will be the case, Republican voters show up at the polls like Democrats did in 2008, this idea of enthusiasm, political revolution, and populist energy will have to break records to keep a Democrat in the White House. It looks highly unlikely because populism, moderation, and enthusiasm were both Democrats’ buzzwords going into Iowa and New Hampshire where divided Republicans turned up in substantially larger numbers than Democrats to vote. This idea surrounding the “hype” on the Democratic side that success is bound to a monumental turnout from “progressives” is just that; an idea founded on hype. Remember, in America 24 percent of the people self-identify as Democrat, and of those only 14 percent claim to be progressives; 40 percent of Americans are Republicans and the remainder decline to state; but Republicans outnumber Democrats and they always turn out to vote.
If this trend continues further into the primary season, it may give Democrats reason to worry about the general election. They need high turnout to win the Presidency and maximize their gains in the Senate and House.

But it's still a bit early to panic. The piece Rmuse links on the Iowa turnout is
Michael McDonald's Iowa's Caucus Turnout and What It Means from Now until November Huffington Post 02/02/2016. McDonald cautions about reading too much into the Iowa turnout:

The most obvious issue is candidate competition, which is related to contest timing. Dark horse candidates race alongside frontrunners in the earliest contests hoping to earn a surprising showing which will catapult them to their party's nomination. The belief is grounded in the folklore of Jimmy Carter's surprising victory in the 1976 Iowa caucus.

The horserace analogy is particularly apt, because once the candidates clear the initial poles, the front running candidates separate themselves from the pack and it becomes increasingly clear to the voters and campaigns which candidates have a realistic chance of winning the nomination. When this happens, voter participation usually begins to fade.

The dynamic between competition and timing is exemplified by the early primary contests. In 2008, 54% of eligible New Hampshire voters participated in their primary, a turnout rate higher than three states in their November election. Oregon was the next highest state with a primary turnout rate of 43%. Even Iowa's caucus - a low turnout event due to voters' significant time commitment to participate - had a turnout of 16%, which was rivaled turnout rates in Louisiana's and New York's primaries, both below 20%.
The Washington Times piece Rmuse links on the New Hampshire turnout (Stephen Dinan, GOP shatters its turnout record; Democrats lag behind 02/10/2016) also quotes MCDonald's cautions on reading fall turnout patterns into state turnout in the process at this point.

The New York Times reported on February 9 (Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Win in New Hampshire Primary):

Donald J. Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont harnessed working-class fury on Tuesday to surge to commanding victories in a New Hampshire primary that drew a huge turnout across the state. ...

At his victory party, Mr. Sanders, flashing a wide, toothy grin, pointed to the large voter turnout as evidence that only he could energize the Democratic electorate to defeat the Republicans in November.

“Together we have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California,” Mr. Sanders said. “And that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their ‘super PACs.’ ”[my emphasis]
Healy and Martin do not provide the turnout percentage.

This report from NPR (Domenico Montanaro, New Hampshire Turnout Breaks Records, But Not On Democratic Side 02/11/2016) adds some details:

1. Record for total turnout: Combining all voters — Democrats and Republicans — it was a record for a New Hampshire primary. In all, 538,094 people cast ballots. That beats the 2008 record of 527,349.

2. The Republican record was shattered: The final tally for GOP ballots cast was 284,120 votes. That beats out the 2012 Republican primary tally of 248,475.

3. Not the highest ever: That was, however, about 3,000 or so votes shy of the overall highest turnout on either side — the 2008 Democratic primary (287,556).

4. Democratic turnout was big, but not a record:
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the Democratic turnout was "huuuuuge" (or is it yoooooooge?). Well, it was big. But not a record. The Democrats' official tally came to 250,974. That's more than 30,000 short of 2008. It is, though, the second-highest turnout for Democrats. (For reference, the third-highest was in 2004 when 219,787 Democrats cast ballots.)
I haven't gone so far as to dig through the relevant data from the New Hampshire Secretary of State to do my own turnout calculations. But other reports have the turnout as high, as well.

The Manchester Union Leader reported "record-breaking turnout." (Dave Solomon, Sanders' margin one for the ages 02/11/2016) Marisa Schultz reports in New Hampshire primary sees record turnout New York Post 02/10/2016:
The New Hampshire primary saw a record turnout Tuesday, leaving voters dealing with long lines, traffic jams and extended voting hours.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicted a record 550,000 ballots, representing 62 percent of the Granite State’s registered voters.
Also, voters registered "undecided" had the option in New Hampshire to vote in either primary, so it's unclear from what I've seen what effect that may have had on the partisan turnout.

In any case, it's an interesting data point for us political junkies. But it's way too early to read inferences about fall turnout into it.

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