When I first read the headline from the Washington Post that turnout in the Republican primaries are actually up over 2008 and not depressed as the media has insisted for the last two months, I assumed that the comparison would be off, thanks to the longer, more drawn out process this year. After all, the primaries stopped being meaningful in February in 2008, while we’re heading into April with a fight still on our hands. However, the Post’s Aaron Blake accounts for that, and still concludes that in states which had meaningful primaries in both cycles, Republican turnout in 2012 has still risen over 2008:
Whatever the case, Florida is one of just a few genuinely competitive states in 2012 where turnout has dropped, along with Oklahoma and Tennessee. Turnout was also down in Arizona, but that state’s Feb. 28 primary wasn’t highly contested and Romney won by 20 percent.
A strong majority of the most competitive races, meanwhile, have actually seen turnout increase since 2008, including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi and Illinois. Of those states, only Mississippi wasn’t also competitive in 2008.
The takeaway: When there is major vote in a competitive race, Republicans are turning out to vote — at a rate slightly higher than they did four years ago.
The difference was the Super Tuesday of 2008. Twenty-one states held their contests on that February 5th, while John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee were all viable candidates for the nomination. By February 6th, over 40% of the delegates in the Republican race had been allocated. This year, Super Tuesday took place in March and only involved 10 states, and at the end of March’s contests, we’ve seen slightly under 45% of the delegates allocated, if one counts the unbound delegates from non-binding caucuses. Those competitive states from 2008’s Super Tuesday have been distributed in March, April, and May.
That makes the 2008 comparison very valid, and the turnout increases this year very meaningful. Republican enthusiasm hasn’t waned since 2008, although the small level of increase (two percent overall) makes it hard to argue that it’s waxing. However, the trend has amplified in March, which means that GOP voters seem to be getting more enthusiastic as the race continues — and that’s a good sign for Republicans, and a bad one for Barack Obama.