Caucus Countdown: Day 4

What Will Iowa Caucus Turnout for Republicans Look Like?

A lot of pollsters and pundits are predicting a large turnout for the Iowa Caucuses. For instance the NBC News/The Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday. Like many other recent polls it’s based on a high turnout model. They’re looking at a 41.7% turnout for the Republican caucuses which would be phenomenal — over 255,000. The problem is the current record for a Republican caucus is 121,503. Is it possible? Sure. Is it probable?

Not likely.

We had 162,633 people turn out for the 2014 Republican primary when we had a very competitive U.S. Senate race. To put this in perspective it was super easy to vote in this primary. You were able to vote absentee. You were able to vote early in satellite locations. Also you can vote and leave on the primary election day at any time.

That isn’t the case with a caucus where you go to your site at 7:00p listen to speeches from neighbors in support of their candidate and then vote.

Consider that the Republican turnout in 2008 was 119,200 which represented 20.69% of the Republican registration of 576,231 at the time. It was higher in 2012, we saw 121,503 caucus for Republicans which represented 19.76% of the Republican’s 614,913 registered voters at the time.

In 2012 exit polling showed 25% (2% Democrat, 23% independent) changed their party registration to caucus. In 2008 it was 13%. Democrats that year saw 20% of their voters were independents who registered as Democrats so they could caucus.

Right now there are 612,112 registered Republicans in Iowa. If we repeat 2008’s percentage we’re looking at a turnout of 126,646. Mind you the 2008 and 2012 percentages and turnout numbers also include the crossover vote. In 2012 there was not a competitive Democrat presidential race which explains the high crossover percentage seen in exit polling. 2008 when there were competitive races for both parties the crossover percentages was lower for Republicans. My feeling, especially now that it looks like Democrats have a competitive race, we’ll have a lower crossover and independents who register will be split between parties.

We have not seen a huge influx in the month of January leading up to the Caucuses of people changing parties. The Iowa Secretary of State reported just 2,205 “No Party” (independents) changed their registration to Republican and only 924 Democrats did so.

Even in 2012 when, according to exit polling, 27,945 independents registered as Republicans accounted for 23% of the Iowa Caucus vote that was just shy of 3.9% of registered independent voters at the time. To reach say 300,000 in the Republican caucus that some polls have predicted (like the CNN/ORC International poll) it would need an extra ordinary turnout of those who are currently registered Republicans. 25.3% would land us 155,000 to come out to caucus. When you consider an average of 15.9% of registered voters voted in their state’s primary in 2012 that would be pretty remarkable. The highest recorded primary (not a caucus mind you) turnout for Republicans didn’t break 25% in 2012. If we had a repeat of 2012 with a turnout of independents reregistering as Republicans we’d still need 44% turnout of registered Republicans. IF we doubled the number of independents that changed their registration in 2012 we’d still need a 39.8% turnout of registered Republicans. For a little perspective bear in mind that states who had record high turnout in primaries only saw under 31% of their registered voters turnout for a primary when you can vote all day. Even with this scenario we would need almost 56,000 people to register as Republicans on caucus night.

It’s not going to happen.

I think we’ll have a good turnout, but I will be shocked if we break 150,000.

So where does this leave us? I’m not sure how much we can trust the polls and it comes down to organization. The candidate with the best organization with the ability to get out the vote wins. Right now that points to Ted Cruz unless Donald Trump has a yuuuuge turnout of new caucus voters.