Good news and bad news for Trump fans from Nate Cohn. The good news: If you’re looking for evidence that Monday night’s electorate will include a bunch of people who’ve never voted Republican before, which probably means a stronger than expected showing for Trump, here you go. New registrations for the GOP are up from where they were in 2012:
This is what the figures look like corrected AND with new data. It's a completely different story. pic.twitter.com/sbYDUchlo3
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) January 28, 2016
Those are dismal numbers for Bernie Sanders, who’s hoping to bring his own surge of independents and disaffected liberals into the Democratic caucus, but an encouraging sign for Trump. The bad news is that new registrations aren’t as robust as you might expect given the size of Trump’s media megaphone. As you can see, the GOP’s only about 1,000 new registrants ahead of where it was in the dismal 2012 primary. Several thousand more new Democrats were registered in 2008 at this point than new Republicans have registered this year. Which is easily explained: The Obama phenomenon was carried along not just by his media platform but by a world-beating organization with a terrific GOTV operation. Obama had to work to get his voters to caucus, even with the press swooning over him. How’s Trump doing with the other part of the “media + ground game” equation? Anecdotal evidence says … not well:
“They called me the other night and said I’d be a precinct captain,” she said as she stood in snow flurries waiting to enter a Trump rally. The job entails calling other potential Trump supporters in Marshall County to remind them to turn out Monday night at 7 p.m. Of course, to do that she needs names and phone numbers—which, as of earlier this week, she still had not received.
“I’ve asked for a list, and there’s only a few days left, so I hope it’s soon,” she said…
Also in the neighborhood, in yet another office park, was the Trump Iowa headquarters, where it was less clear what activity was taking place. A Trump staffer declined to give National Journal access to anything beyond the entryway. In the course of an hour, not a single staff member or volunteer entered or exited the building.
The next day, at a nearby call center hired by Trump for phone-banking, only eight volunteers had signed in by midday—by which time other campaigns would have twice or three times as many people working the phones.
Ace wonders why Trump, whose resources are basically inexhaustible, skimped on pouring money into his GOTV effort. That’s one of the great mysteries of the primary. He could have buried the other candidates with attack ads and field troops, and although critics would have screamed he was buying the nomination, most of the party would have shrugged. That’s one of Trump’s core invulnerabilities — he flaunts his wealth so much that there’s no way to shame him for enjoying it the way the left continuously shamed Romney for it. If he wanted to spend $200 million to destroy Cruz, he would have just said, “It’s my money, I worked hard for it,” and everyone apart from Cruz fans would have high-fived. But he hasn’t done that. Why come this far, leading the polls for the duration of the primary, only to get out-organized in the only poll that counts?
Aha, but what about new registrations on caucus day? Political junkies know by now that anyone can walk in on Monday night, register, and participate. Maybe the big surge is still to come. Maybe, but Cohn notes that that isn’t how it’s worked in the past, even for the Obama phenomenon:
The number of active registered voters increased by about 16,000 between January and February in 2008, and many of those newly registered voters didn’t vote or participate in the G.O.P. race. It seems reasonable to assume that around 10,000 newly registered voters participated in the 2008 Democratic primary, or only about 4 percent of the electorate.
Most of the increase in turnout for Mr. Obama came from voters who were already registered but hadn’t previously participated in the caucus, not from people who had not yet registered to vote.
Could be that Trumpmania will rely on the same sort of already-registered-but-disaffected voters that Obama did, in which case maybe the new-registrant numbers aren’t capturing the size of the wave that’s coming. For the record, though, the best caucus turnout the GOP’s ever had was 122,000 people in 2012. Monmouth assumed turnout of 170,000 people in its poll yesterday showing Trump leading Cruz by seven points. A more modest turnout of 130,000, which would still be record-setting, would produce … a dead heat between Cruz and Trump at 26 percent each. There’s more good news and potential bad news for Trumpers in that. The good news is that Trump has now gained enough on Cruz that he’s a threat to win even if there isn’t the sort of blockbuster gate-crashing among his fans that he’s hoping for. The bad news is that, if Cruz is out-organizing him in terms of turning out likely voters, maybe he’s also out-organizing him in registering people (and convincing registered-but-disaffected Republicans who support him to show up). Trump isn’t going to win all the first-time caucusgoers, after all. Whether he wins Iowa depends on his margin over Cruz in that category. The fact that the indicators for newbies on Monday night aren’t off the charts suggests that margin will be smaller than expected.
For more on the turnout numbers in Iowa, read streiff at Red State, who notes that Republican registrations are actually down from where they were a year ago. That’ll probably change as of Monday, when some people join the party to caucus, but it’s not the trend that a Trump fan wants to see.