The turnout game | Arkansas Blog

The turnout game

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Before a flurry of activities begin later in the day, we're having a little down time to catch up on sleep, recaffeinate, and generally gird ourselves for the intensity of the next 36 hours.  

The candidates are all over the state today before reconverging on Des Moines for events this evening.  Of course, while a lot of attention has been paid to the last round of polls (especially the well-respected Des Moines Register poll that's been critiqued heavily by the trailing Edwards and Clinton campaigns), tomorrow night is really about how many turn out and which demographic groups turn out.   For comparison, in 2004, while it's a little unclear exactly how many Democrats participated, it probably was just under 120,000.  We have to go back to 2000 to get a decent comparative number on the GOP side; that year, about 90,000 votes were cast.  

Go to the jump for an analysis of how varying turnouts could affect the leading candidates.

On the Democratic side, Edwards is advantaged by a low turnout.   His campaign thinks he can make it if turnout remains under 135,000, particularly if they can pick up their expected number of "second" votes from candidates who don't meet the 15 percent threshold on the first round of voting.  Clinton and Obama need larger turnouts.  If turnout is in the 150,000 range there is a real sense that Obama will win it.  

Between those two numbers, it matters not so much how many turn out, but who they are.  If they are disproportionately older women, as would be expected, then Clinton is the beneficiary. 

But, there's another layer to this game: delegates are allocated based on the Democratic performance in the area in the 2004 election.  So, a candidate can get a lot of caucus goers but be inefficient by getting too many votes in a smaller number of caucuses. 

Edwards is the one candidate who has support all over the state.  In rural areas, Clinton has troubles in the northern part of the state; Obama is also a bit more hit-and-miss in his support.  So, it's possible that Edwards could lose the overall vote but still get the most delegates tomorrow night.  The question then becomes: How does the media report these complicated results and does anything but a clear win (no matter how close) damage Clinton big-time?

On the GOP side, Romney's self-financed organizational strength means that his voters will be there.  They also tend to be the upscale types who would attend no matter what.  But, Huckabee's turnout is a total crapshoot.  A lot of the folks at the Chuck and Huck event last night are clearly not normal caucus participants.  Are they so enthusiastic about Huckabee that they figure out where to go and show up anyway?   

Huckabee's voters are going to do a lot of the work themselves since he doesn't have the organization to do the leg work.  Homeschoolers from around the country are arriving to help and he clearly has excellent faith-based organizations in Iowa.  But, based on the Howard Dean 2004 example, it's hard for folks to arrive at the last minute and become effective activists in the complicated caucus system.    My money's on Romney, but a Huckabee win would be a fantastic political story that would be talked about for a generation.

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