I keep reading it, over and over: the Republican turnout in Tuesday’s Illinois primary was low. Sometimes the report is “record low.” That would be a problem for Romney or the eventual nominee, whomever it might be, and would indicate a lack of voter enthusiasm on the part of the base.
This sort of thing has been written in the comments of this blog. Here’s one example:
As Alifa pointed out above, turnout was low. Indeed, I heard the IL Sec of State or whoever heads up the election squad quoted that this was a record low turnout.
Romney started the campaign of Repub personal destruction, and this is likely the result….why bother to vote in the primary, since they’re all bums?
We are becoming Venezuelans. Discouragement leads to apathy.
Here’s another example, from the blog Gateway Pundit. There are many, many others.
It’s the meme du jour (that is, the meme du last Tuesday). Only problem is, it’s not true.
So how did this rumor begin? Some of the perception seems to be based on articles such as this one from CBS. It makes it sound as though turnout in general, as well as on the Republican side, was very low. But notice an interesting detail: the article only talks about the city of Chicago.
This one, written yesterday, seems to be saying that turnout was very low not just in Chicago, but at the state level:
Illinois voters, at least the ones who bothered to show up, did the math and wound up backing Mitt Romney, a candidate they see as less than thrilling but still the Republican Party’s best chance of capturing the White House this fall.
Turnout seems likely to be among the lowest in decades — perhaps the lowest, period. The record low in state records dating back to 1960 is 23 percent, which happened two years ago. Officials in several election districts said Tuesday’s turnout was hovering around 20 percent.
But later on the article drops a first hint of what’s really going on, although its significance could easily be missed [emphasis mine]:
The city of Chicago, overwhelmingly Democratic, might end up with its lowest turnout since World War II. Officials said turnout was 22.8 percent, with just 1 percent of precincts left to count as of early Wednesday morning.
The lack of statewide races beyond the presidential contest likely played a role in holding down turnout, particularly among Democrats. It was the first Illinois primary since 2000 that didn’t include a race for U.S. Senate or governor.
Aha! So now we learn more explicitly that it is total turnout they’re talking about, and that there’s a special reason why the Democratic turnout would be so depressed: not only is Obama a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination, but there are no statewide contests, unlike in previous years.
One would think, since it’s really only the Republican battle that anyone’s paying much attention to, that an article about turnout would focus on Republican turnout. But I’ve seen very few that mention that separately. It’s hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that this is purposeful, because it’s such a glaring omission when you finally spot it. The goal? My guess is that it’s to have the reader think turnout on the Republican side was low, which is a demoralizing message to the Republican Party. Perhaps the hope is that it will even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, it could also be mere stupidity, but I don’t think so.
And that especially low turnout in Chicago? Probably because Chicago is so overwhelmingly Democratic.
So, what was the level of Republican turnout in Illinois on Tuesday? Pretty darn high:
Romney actually won more votes in Illinois than John McCain did in 2008 and the number of Republican voters who went to the polls also exceeded turnout four years ago…While turnout in Chicago apparently was extremely low, that wasn’t the case for the entire state. Republican turnout was about 2.5% higher compared to four years ago, based on the latest state returns.
The Republican vote also surpassed the primary totals in 2004 and 2000.
In 2004, President George W. Bush won 583,575 votes in an uncontested primary. And in 2000, the Republican vote totaled 736,921 in a contested election that pitted Bush vs. McCain and several other candidates.
The increase in the Illinois vote cannot be attributed to population growth. The Democratic-leaning state’s population has grown less than 4% in the past 12 years, according to U.S. Census data.
The upshot is, Republicans are turning out to vote at similar levels to 2008 regardless of whether they are enthusiastic about their choice of candidates. Vote totals are generally higher in the Midwest while participation is mixed in the South.
Turnout in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan , for example, was higher in 2012. It was also higher in Alabama and Mississippi but lower in Florida and Tennessee.
The article goes on to say that higher turnout in the primaries isn’t necessarily correlated with winning the general. Of course not. But let’s get our facts straight about what the turnout actually was before we talk about what it means or doesn’t mean. And don’t count on most of the MSM to help us out in that endeavor.
[NOTE: Don't misconstrue this post to mean I think the Republican electorate is exceptionally excited and inspired by the current slate of candidates. But I like to deal in facts, and the fact is that Republican turnout in Illinois was just fine. Perhaps the inspiration for Republican voters comes from the prospect of unseating Obama in 2012.]