Republican primary turnout rebounds, is up overall

at 03:45 PM ET, 03/23/2012

Reports of the GOP’s turnout problems appear to have been slightly premature.

A Fix review of turnout in the Republican presidential nominating process shows that it has rebounded in recent weeks, and GOP voters are now turning out in consistently higher numbers than they did in 2008.

In addition, in the most competitive Republican contests held this year, turnout is up almost universally, with just a couple exceptions.

Turnout is up in all four states that have held major contests since Super Tuesday — Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Illinois — and is up overall in eight of 12 contests held this month for which there was a comparable contest held four years ago.

The only states where turnout has been down so far this month have been Massachusetts and Georgia, the home states of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and in Oklahoma and Tennessee. In Tennessee, it was down 1 percent, while in Oklahoma it was down 15 percent.
Mattie Gibson casts her ballot at South Chicago Dodge Chrysler Jeep Tuesday in Chicago, Illinois. (John Gress - GETTY IMAGES)

Turnout was up slightly in two states — Alaska and Illinois — up 13 percent in Alabama, up 19 percent in both North Dakota and Ohio, up 53 percent in both Vermont and Kansas, and it more than doubled in Mississippi last week. (It should be noted that Mississippi’s 2008 contest was held March 11, a week after John McCain secured a majority of delegates and Mike Huckabee dropped out.)

Overall, there are 22 contests that can be compared fairly to 2008. Add them up and turnout is up 2 percent so far this year and has risen in 15 of the 24 states.

That’s a change from earlier this year.

Through the end of February, half the states holding contests experienced drops in turnout as compared to 2008, and turnout overall was down slightly.

The biggest drop came in Florida, where turnout dropped 14 percent from 2008, when nearly two million people turned out. Republicans say that comparison isn’t apples-to-apples, though, because in 2008, there was also a contentious property tax issue on the ballot, which spurred higher turnout.

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.

No, 2008 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the GOP, so the party probably should hope its turnout would rise. But at least it has risen. So far.

(Below is the raw data, and the Google spreadsheet can be found here.)

Correction: This post initially misstated the number of comparable contests between 2008 and 2012. The number is 22, not 24.

 
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