Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Low turnout, high importance

On this eve of the first Presidential nominating contest in the nation, it would be the case that a nasty winter storm has made its way across the Midwest, and the cold from that system is even impacting the weather in East Tennessee today. The weather forecast for Des Moines around Caucus time tomorrow night is for temperatures around 26 degrees with a wind chill of 12. That isn't unusual weather for Iowa in January-and with similar forecasts for Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, the weather can't really be blamed for any lower-than-normal turnout that may or may not come about tomorrow.

The candidates are making their last-minute push for votes in both parties, and the so-called "frontrunners" at this point-Mike Huckabee for the Republicans and Barack Obama for the Democrats-are pushing their supporters to turn their critical voters out:
"The polls look good, but understand this — the polls are not
enough. The only thing that counts is whether or not you show up to
caucus," Democrat Barack Obama told a fired-up crowd of young and old packed into a high school gymnasium.

Amid murmurs of "Amen!" at a pizza parlor in Sergeant Bluff, Republican Mike Huckabee urged hundreds: "Don't go alone. Take people with you.Fill up your car. Rent a van. Hijack your church's bus, whatever you've got to do to get people to the caucus who are going to vote for me."

All the candidates, no matter where they might register in the polls today, know that tomorrow is the day that really counts. Turnout is everything in a caucus, because the polls may have you in first, second, or third but if your supporters don't show up to caucus in their precincts on your behalf you will not place as high as the polls were predicting. Although turnout can impact a primary, opinion polls for primaries have been shown to be far more accurate than those for caucuses because caucuses actually take effort to participate in-something that many modern Americans are loathe to exert, even for things that are important. That is precisely why I support caucusing as opposed to primaries as a means to select our presidential nominees, however. If you care enough to take an hour or two out of your evening to attend a political party's precinct caucus, you care enough to have a greater say in who the nominee of your chosen political party ought to be than someone who doesn't give enough of a rat's rear end to plan to be there, or who is too uninformed to cast a primary vote that matters. Yes, I know that some will say "I have to work," or "I have this-or-that problem." For some, they have valid excuses why they can't participate in the process, but most who don't participate could care less. Those who could care less should move over and make room for those who give a damn.

Studies show that only around one in ten eligible Iowans will participate in a Precinct Caucus tomorrow night. If those traditional turnout numbers hold, it means that around 10% of the voting population of a small State in the upper Midwest will decide which candidates become the frontrunners for the Republican and Democratic nominations in 2008, and their lack of support could send other candidates home. That is as it should be. The people who bother to turn out at a Precinct Caucus are more representative of both political parties than the average voter-they are the political grassroots. If they won't support a candidate, that means the party as a whole will have a hard time getting behind that person. If a candidate can motivate the grassroots to turn out to caucus for them, they can motivate those same people to support them in the fall.



At Thursday, January 03, 2008 3:31:00 PM, Blogger ned said...

I agree--it is very difficult to predict how a caucus will turn out (though it is somewhat easier to assess how strong a campaign's GOTV apparatus is). I would EXPECT some big surprises tonight.

And the number I saw (re. percentage of participation) was something like 3-4% in each party, so the 1 in 10 makes it sound even higher than it actually turns out to be given that it is essentially two different elections going on.

But regarding difficulty of attending, I'm reminded of a story (come sit next to Uncle Ned). When we lived (briefly) in MN we participated in a caucus and I wasn't going to be able to attend a county caucus but was able to convince the caucus to elect two persons who weren't able to be at the precinct caucus. I would assume that it works similarly in Iowa, and it demonstrates that purported roadblocks to substantive impact are merely purported.


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