Was Turnout a Problem in Iowa?

DES MOINES, IA - FEBRUARY 02: A woman walks past a sign displayed on a building a Drake University that reads "Road To 2020 Starts Here" on February 2, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Tomorrow, Iowa voters will go to their... DES MOINES, IA - FEBRUARY 02: A woman walks past a sign displayed on a building a Drake University that reads "Road To 2020 Starts Here" on February 2, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Tomorrow, Iowa voters will go to their local precincts to caucus for a one of several presidential candidates. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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February 4, 2020 1:19 p.m.

As I noted below, President Trump’s rising poll numbers have my attention. They are worrisome. But there’s been another critique floating around since last night and that is that it’s a bad sign for Democrats that turnout at the Iowa caucuses was just on par with 2016 rather than the high numbers from 2008. (The Post’s Karen Tumulty makes the argument here.) I don’t have to remind you 2008 turned out better than 2016. But I’m pretty confident that this conventional wisdom is wrong. Normal turnout in Iowa is just fine in terms of what it might say about November. Here’s why.

Turn out is driven by people’s investment in the outcome of that election. But let’s focus on what that mean – that election, in this case the primary election. One thing I noticed in all the caucus coverage last night was that universally people were saying they were happy to support any of the candidates in November.

We’ve all seen that Democrats consistently and overwhelmingly say their first priority is a candidate who can beat President Trump. Certainly Sanders especially but also Warren have very enthusiastic supporters. But my sense at least is that Democrats are mainly champing at the bit to get a chance at voting out President Trump. You see this in poll after poll – not just the toplines but the internal measures of Democratic enthusiasm and focus.

I feel confident about this because I expected there to be normal turnout for just this reason. It didn’t make sense to me that commentators expected 2008 type results rather than 2016 type results. For most Democrats the first, second and probably third priority is ending President Trump’s presidency. By that measure, this level of turnout strikes me as unsurprising and not worrisome.

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