Saturday, March 31, 2012

Republican Turn-Out and the Enthusiasim Gap

If you've been following the Republican primaries (and if you haven't, why are you reading this blog?) you have heard that Republican turn out is down. This is, allegedly, because (a) no one is exicted about Romney (b) because the campaign is so negative and (c) because Obama is gonna win anyway. You may have read something like this:

Illinois Voters Pick Romney; turnout low
Mitt Romney's percieved elligibility carried him to a major illinois victory over Rick Santorum today in the race for the White House, though turnout was light despite the rarity of the state actually playing a major role in the presidential primary.
It should be noted that other than that paragraph (and, er, the headline) there is no real mention of the turn-out, numbers, or comparisions. Perhaps there's a reason for that? About a week ago, a survey by Washingpost's The Fix, determined that this narrative is not true:
Reports of the GOP's turnout problems appear to have been slightly premature. A Fix review of turnout in the Republican presidental nominating process shows that it has rebounded in recent weeks, and GOP voters are now turning out in consistently higher numbers than they did in 2008.
Their conclusion is that, with the notable exception of Florida, and adjusted for the different rules, where there is a competitive race Republicans are turning out to vote in higher numbers (if just slightly) than four years ago.

So that's good, right?

However: the New York Tiimes finds that while, yes, GOP whole numbers are up, the percentage of GOP voter-growth is not keeping pace with the percentate of total voters.
despite the spirited battle between Mitt Romney and a succession of challengers, turnout as a percentage of the eligible voting population is down, and the states where turnout is up are often those that allow Democrats and independents to vote in Republican contests.
Indeed, there has been some allegations that the open primaries and various Democrat voting strategies have been responsible for some womky numbers. I'm not sure I buy that--the whole Operation Chaos strategy relies on motivators that I don't think are all that strong (you have to get off your couch and vote for a guy you'd never vote for in the general election just to try to have a slightly less strong opponent--and you have to hope literally thousands of other people do the same--which is unlikely). It's also true that just because someone isn't a registered Republican doesn't mean they won't vote GOP in November. Much less, it doesn't mean they'll vote for Obama either.

That's good.

Still, our defense against bias and conjecture is, as always, math. The FiveThirtyEight blog shows the numerical breakdown that has Romney losing rural voters and holding strong only with urban GOP voters. They conclude that this may make it hard to unify the party in November.

So that's bad.

The frogurt is also cursed.

What Do I Think?
I think that it's interesting that the media narrative was so strongly in favor of the "low turn-out" meme that it went almost unquestioned for weeks. As it is, I'm still having a hard time determining exactly what happened that led to the narrative taking hold the way it did. The obvious answer is that the press is simply biased--and that may be part of it--but a lot of GOP-friendly press held with it too. And, to be sure, very few people are really, really exicted about Romney. I mean, he's a reasonable choice--and the favorite between him and Santorum to beat Obama in November--but beyond that? Kind of a yawner.

I think that the real finding here is that the Conventional Wisdom is to be question. Now, let me be clear: I'm a Conventional Wisdom guy. I think that Conventional Wisdom, like Conventional Weapons, is usually what gets the job done. If everyone is saying turn-out is down there's probably a reason for it. Example: This article holds that turnout for Chicago was very low--but the headline extends that to the whole state. One can be true without the other being true. That might actually fit with the urban vs. rurual nature of Illinois. I don't know. I'm mistrustful of conspiracy thinking so while I do think the press has a left-wing bias as a profession I do not think that it leads to networked deception across multiple agencies (yes, I know about Jurnolist).

So what is going on? I don't know for sure--but I would think that Romney does have a popularity problem and his nomination will count on the negative of people disliking Obama more than liking him. That's an uncomfortable place to be--but that's where I think he is. My opinion.

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