The GOP’s ongoing turnout problem

The GOP's ongoing turnout problem
The GOP's ongoing turnout problem

There can be little doubt that Mitt Romney dominated in Florida’s Republican presidential primary, but there were a few tidbits in the exit polls that stood out, including this one:

This has to be discouraging for the former governor and his campaign. Romney and his allies spent $16 million in the state, but on the day of the primary, nearly 4 in 10 Florida Republicans still wish someone better would get into the race.

It might help explain the GOP’s ongoing turnout problem.

Underneath tonight’s big win for Mitt Romney in the Florida Republican primary, is a statistic that might suggest enthusiasm is flagging among GOP voters in this large and crucial swing state: turnout was actually down significantly from 2008.

In the 2008 Republican primary in Florida, in which John McCain beat Romney by a margin of 36%-31%, a total of nearly 1.95 million votes were cast.

But in tonight’s primary, turnout was actually much lower. At time of writing, with 98% of precincts reporting, the total turnout is only about 1.65 million – a drop-off of 15% in terms of the raw number of voters.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because most of the party’s other January contests showed a similar trend.

In the Iowa caucuses, GOP turnout fell short of expectations. In the New Hampshire primary, it happened again. Turnout in South Carolina was strong, but after another weak showing in Florida, it’s proving to be the exception.

This is not at all what Republican leaders anticipated. On the contrary, GOP officials in the states and at the national level assumed the exact opposite would happen.

Remember, Republican turnout was supposed to soar in these early contests because of the larger circumstances. GOP voters are reportedly eager, if not foaming-at-the-mouth desperate, to fight a crusade against President Obama, and they had plenty of high-profile candidates trying to stoke their enthusiasm.

This, coupled with the boost from the so-called Tea Party “movement,” suggested energized Republicans would turn out in numbers that far exceeded the totals we saw in 2008, when GOP voters were depressed and it was Democrats who enjoyed the bulk of the excitement.

But in three of the four contests thus far, that hasn’t happened.

At this point in the nominating process, the last thing party leaders wanted to see was evidence of a listless, uninspired party, underwhelmed by their field of candidates. Republicans probably won’t fret publicly, but the turnout numbers should give party leaders pause.

The GOP's ongoing turnout problem