Friday, January 20, 2012

Is There An Enthusiasm Gap Among Republicans???

Things have been dark here for many months.  Now that the campaign is heating up, I'm going to try getting some things up on a more regular basis.  I've got a couple of posts in the works but let's start with a short little data exploration.

With two Republican votes already in the books and another taking place in South Carolina this weekend, one question that has gotten a bit of attention is whether Republican voters are enthusiastic about their choices, especially now that the field is winnowing.  For any party hoping to win the presidency--or any other election for that matter--turning out your voters is of primary importance.  The assumption going into 2012 for Republicans was that given the degree of opposition on the right to the Obama presidency, and coming on the tails of their success in the 2010 midterms, there would be tremendous energy and activism mobilized to propel whoever won the nomination into the White House.

While we've only had a few contests so far, there is reason to wonder whether this assumption is in fact true. 

If we look at the results from New Hampshire, a total of 248,447 votes were cast in the Republican primary across all candidates, more than in any recent Granite State GOP primary.  When compared to 2008, this year's vote was an increase of 3.6%.

To get a sense of whether this increase is significant or tells us anything about the state of the GOP electorate, though, we need some baseline of comparison.  I decided to look at recent New Hampshire primaries in which one party was trying to take over the White House from the other--a scenario that would seem to be ripe for increased turnout and mobilization.  When we look at these contests, 2012 doesn't stack up well.

For example, in 2008 the Democrats saw a 31% increase in turnout over 2004 (287,556 vs. 219,787 votes).  Also on the Democratic side--and also a successful party flip of the White House--1992 saw the Democrats increase their turnout by an even more impressive 36% over 1988 (167,664 vs. 122,912 votes).  Looking at Republicans, in 2000 the GOP turnout was 16% higher than it was in 1996 (238,206 vs. 205,856 votes).

Unlike in later contests where the eventual nominee becomes established and most candidates have dropped out, New Hampshire primaries have full fields and permissive voting procedures--it is an "open" primary.  Thus, we would expect the voting there to be a relatively good barometer of the party's enthusiasm.  If the turnout results in New Hampshire continue into the later contests, there's reason for GOP leaders--and the eventual nominee--to worry about the fall.

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