The turnout threat: when voters vamoose

Republicans aren't excited about their choices, but Obama faces enthusiasm problems, too
February 26, 2012 12:00 am

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DENVER -- Where did all the voters go?

Maybe to the ski slopes. Maybe to the mall. Maybe for a wintry walk along one of the spectacular mountain byways. But not to the caucus venues where, earlier this month, Colorado Republicans were invited to indicate their presidential preferences. Turnout here was down about 6 percent from 2008.

But Colorado isn't alone. Turnout in Florida, where a torrid race filled the newspapers and the airwaves, was down about 14 percent. In Nevada, it was down more than a quarter. Even in New Hampshire, where turnout was up 6 percent, the increase almost certainly came from Independent voters who veered into a GOP race simply because there wasn't a Democratic race to join.

Maybe the question isn't Where are the voters? Maybe the question is Where is the love?

This has been a persistent problem in the Republican race thus far. Among the political elite, the issue has taken the form of yearning for candidates who aren't, or wouldn't, run for president. Among the voters, the issue has taken the form of near apathy.

The race to be the nominee who challenges Barack Obama simply isn't exciting members of a party that is determined, with a ferocity perhaps unequaled since Democratic resentment of Richard M. Nixon, to topple the sitting president.

"The public doesn't feel it has good choices and so people are staying at home," says Curtis Gans, who, as the director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, is the nation's leading expert on voter participation. "I'm expecting it to continue. On the right you have intense voters. On the center right you have lukewarm voters. And every place beyond that not much interest at all."

That frustration is pervasive. The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll showed that nearly two out of three Republican primary voters wish there were more choices for the Republican nomination -- a group that has grown significantly since the fall.

This is yet another piece of bad news for former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who won Colorado and Minnesota in 2008 only to lose them this month. He's the fellow who appeals to the center right and whom most political professionals expect to be the eventual Republican nominee -- a theory that gets its most rigorous test on Tuesday when Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries.


First Published 2012-02-25 23:20:36

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