Too early to say, but Philip Klein at the Washington Times has crunched some turnout numbers from the New Hampshire primary and come up with some interesting conclusions:
Though overall turnout in the primary is projected to set a record, eclipsing the 2008 tally, turnout among Republican voters is on track to be down by roughly 16 percent.
The reason for the discrepancy is that because there was no competitive Democratic primary this time around (as well as several GOP candidates aggressively chasing their votes), there was a huge spike in the number of independents and Democrats who were voting in the Republican race, something Granite Staters can do in the open primary system.
When you eliminate independents and Democrats from the 2008 equation, actual registered Republicans made up 61 percent of the roughly 239,000 votes cast in the GOP primary, putting the turnout among Republicans at around 145,790. But last night, actual Republicans only comprised 49 percent of the electorate, according to exits. Even if we round up the final 2012 turnout number to 250,000, which would be slightly higher than current projections, that would only leave actual Republican turnout at 122,500, which would represent a 16 percent drop.
Now obviously, there are a number of caveats involved. More and more voters are identifying as independent, especially in New Hampshire, even though they typically behave in a partisan matter. And perhaps disaffection with Obama also led to a spike in turnout among Democrats and true independents. But either way, this is worth keeping in mind when you hear reports of the “record” turnout. From my observations, Republican events have been generally low energy both in Iowa and New Hampshire, especially when compared with what we saw on the Democratic side in 2008.
In 2008, Democrats were energized after being out of the White House for 8 years and excited about their candidate. In 2010, the GOP got a huge boost from the energy created by Tea Party members and the realization that they could seize the House and perhaps the senate.
And 2012? Democrats are discouraged by the incumbent’s record of failure. The young, Hispanics, and hard left are all disappointed in Obama. Meanwhile, Republicans are grumbling about their choices. Conservatives, Evangelicals, and Tea Party members are all still casting about for an alternative to Mitt Romney. It appears at this point, that neither party is going into the election enamored of their candidate and disappointed in the performance of their party in general.
Amping up enthusiasm for Romney is going to be difficult for Republicans. The most partisan party members are the ones currently most opposed to the former Massachusetts governor. That doesn’t mean that an “enthusiasm gap” will develop but the drop in turnout in New Hampshire should be a warning sign that it’s possible.