Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Initial Thoughts on Romney's "Win"

Yeah. The airquotes are intended to be sarcastic.

Comparing the initial results from tonight with my pre-primary night post on expectations for Romney, we can see that Romney failed on at least one key measure and I think it really is an ominous sign for Romney. I had said that it would be bad if Romney failed to match his vote total from 2008 but that I thought this was not likely to happen. It appears it is happening:

Although the polls made pretty good predictions of the election outcome tonight, forecasting turnout is harder. So far it looks like rumors of a record Republican turnout in New Hampshire were greatly exaggerated.

With 85 of 301 precincts reporting, 52,191 voters have cast a ballot in the Republican primary so far. That projects to about 185,000 votes statewide, as compared with about 240,000 votes in the Republican primary in 2008.

The drop-off in turnout looks worse for Republicans since a higher fraction of voters - about half this year, compared to 37 percent in 2008 - are independents. That means that turnout among registered Republicans could alone be off by nearly 40 percent from 2008.

- Nate Silver

So, if this is true, what does it mean? Romney appears headed for about 35% to 36% of the vote tonight. That's sort of in the middle between what he was hoping for (40%+) and what I thought would be a disaster for Romney (<32%). It does appear he'll have beaten Ron Paul by more than 10 points ... but not by much more. But the low voter turnout is pretty awful and, if Romney does get fewer votes in 2012 than in 2008, I think that's a real danger sign for him.

Remember that there is no competitive Democratic Primary this year so independents are not being drawn in big numbers away from the GOP Primary as they were in 2008. Turnout should have been higher. It appears to be a lot lower.

Let's put this another way. In 2008, Romney lost the nomination ... but he couldn't even get all of those voters in New Hampshire that voted for him last time to vote for him this time. In effect, his win tonight was simply the result of the failure of the anti-Romney vote to coalesce around anyone in particular. Had they done so, there was plenty of room for Romney to actually lose tonight.

There are two bad things that can happen to a frontrunner on primary night. One is they can lose. Romney avoided that. But the other bad thing that can happen is they can win but misinterpret the result as a sign that they're on the right track. Romney does not seem to be seeing the danger signs here. He has underperformed his polls in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He has received fewer votes in Iowa AND in New Hampshire compared with 2008. But he seems to think voters like him more this time. That's not it Willard. They just like your opposition less.

UPDATE: My initial read of the early numbers is not quite as bad for Romney. It does appear he will get a few more votes than in 2008 (roughly 10,000 more by current projections) but the argument still stands I think. Maybe just not as emphatically.

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