Now Let’s Talk About Turnout

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Roughly 110,000 voters turned out for last night’s caucuses. That compares to 187,000 in 2016. (2012 and 2008 were closer to last night’s numbers 122,000 and 120,000, respectively.) But that’s still the lowest turnout in more than a decade and dramatically lower than the last contest in 2016. To me the turnout number is much less significant than the result, which I discussed here.

But it’s not insignificant.

There are a few possible explanations. One is that it was incredibly cold last night. But let’s be honest: winters in Iowa are always cold as fuck. They’re used to it. More significant, Republicans could be pretty confident that the outcome of the caucus and the overall nomination battle are both pretty much settled in Trump’s favor. That is a big disincentive to show up. Those explanations, especially the second, get you pretty close to a good explanation.

But not all the way there.

Contested elections drive turnout. But so does enthusiasm. Even though the underwhelming result is the big signifier, substantial turnout would have pointed in a contrary direction. That many people staying home points to an unenthused electorate. And that’s actually consistent with approaching two years of elections in which GOP enthusiasm and turnout have been lackluster. The other way to look at it is that the low turnout/low stakes assumption is also consistent with the idea that Trump’s running as the de facto incumbent/party leader.

In which case he should have done significantly better.

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