Statistical Insignificance: Or, “Where have all the GOP voters gone?

by admin

Presidential primaries are never pretty – they are, after all, the proverbial “sausage factories” of American politics; wherein groups of sometimes civilized men sling intestinal materials at each other until the mess and overpowering stench becomes too much to bear (for both participant and observer) – but the 2012 GOP Presidential primary appears to be fast-tracking itself into one of the most intensively dislikable races in modern memory.  Over the past few weeks we’ve witnessed a freakshow of delusional behavior coming from almost every GOP political camp save one (more on that later).  From the usual factually challenged statements common to any political campaign (most, ironically, coming from a man calling himself an historian), we’ve witnessed the devolution of the grand old party into a collection of back-biting yard dogs, attacking not only each other with an increasing venom and hostility, but also the very populace they’re trying to win over to their side.  The results, shall we say, are beginning to speak for themselves.

Since the first Iowa primary, the lead for the top of the GOP field has changed hands a total of eight times.  Under normal circumstances, this would reflect a certain uncertainty in the general public over which candidate might be best suited to lead the pack come election time.  However, with each successive primary, the results are swinging so wildly from one type of candidate to another that its become nearly impossible to determine just what it is the GOP faithfull is looking for.  To further complicate matters, it appears as if a crucial component of the GOP voting block has either abandoned the cause, or checked itself out of the process.

Below are the results from each of the primaries that have been held thus far.  Vote tallies have been taken from the most recent certified results, and I’ve limited the list of candidates to the gang of four currently ruling the roost (listed alphabetically to avoid insult).  Additionally, I have included the number of registered voters for each state, along with turnout percentages for the most recent elections to illustrate what I feel is an interesting statistical point.

Candidate IA NH SC FL NV MO MN CO ME
Voting Eligible Population 2250423 1001914 3434551 13088171 1770920 4415112 3837237 3603764 1036235
Newt Gingrich 16163 23411 243172 533117 6956 N/A 8222 8445 391
Ron Paul 26036 56848 78000 117104 6175 30641 13228 7759 2030
Mitt Romney 29805 97532 167297 775014 16486 63826 5272 23012 2269
Rick Santorum 29838 23362 102061 222799 3277 138957 21932 26614 1052
Other 19658 47332 10685 21613 0 18444 141 197 72
2008 Primary Turnout 16.1 53.6 30.3 34.0 9.70 33.0 7.40 5.40 0.01
2008 General ElectionTurnout 69.4 71.7 58.0 66.1 57.0 67.6 77.8 71.0 70.6
2010 GE Turnout 50.0 45.7 39.7 41.9 41.1 44.5 55.4 50.7 55.3
2012 Primary Turnout 6.5 31.1 17.6 12.8 0.02 7.40 1.30 1.80 0.01

* Source: http://elections.gmu.edu/voter_turnout.htm

What these numbers appear to show is that the GOP primary is not proving to be the strident “voice of the people” mandate some candidates are claiming it to be, but rather a slow methodical decline into statistical irrelevance.  Nothing in these numbers screams excitement from the general populace, let alone the GOP electorate.  Compared to previous years’ turnout – and remember, these were the years that Barack Obama, the right’s primary nemesis and alleged anti-Christ, rose to power – it appears as if the vast majority of GOP voters are simply staying home.  Granted, primaries don’t usually draw the numbers of voters that a general election might, but nothing in the above shows any indication of the levels of voter excitement needed to oust an incumbent.  Simply stated, it appears as if even the GOP’s interest in its candidates is waning, and this cannot bode well for the GOP’s chances in the upcoming election.

But what is going on, then?  Where are the dyed-in-the-wool Republican voters when the GOP appears to need them most?  Sick with the flu?  Working too many jobs?  Overseas buying up Grecian real estate at bargain basement prices?  Have they become as dissatisfied with the current state of our nation’s politics as the rest of us, and decided to check out until the general election?  And what does this mean with regard to the candidates and the votes currently being cast?

Let’s face it, it’s not like the GOP have the most attractive field in modern memory.  You can’t swing a dead cat without whacking the already throbbing skull of a potential constituent they haven’t offended in some way.  From an almost relentless attack on women and reproductive rights, instructional treatise on how to mange to your sex life, to suggestions that some parts of the Constitution are fundamentally flawed, all the public is hearing is a confusing and irrational array of proposals for controlling human behavior, and very little about guiding the country into an envisioned future.  There is no message of yet, just heated rhetoric, and while sound and fury may make the front page, the absence of any significant vision eventually causes voters to simply tune out.

Is this the case?  Who knows?  But I do find it incredibly difficult to believe that the number of voters shown above illustrates the true thinking of the whole of the Republican party.  If this were true, wouldn’t we be seeing higher turnouts of true believers driving the message home?  One percent does not a majority make, and if the GOP genuinely believes this turnout is indicative of anything other a general malaise in its numbers, Barack Obama might as well start examining color swatches for his second-term redecoration plans for the Oval Office.

But this in itself is problematic.  If they’re unhappy with the choices they have, why perpetuate the charade?  Why not lead with the ones that would make them happy?  Why continue with a crop that is doing little more than ensuring that millions of potential votes may be lost?

Perhaps, and I’m just spitballing here, there’s something deeper going on.  Perhaps the GOP is testing the mettle of its own party.  It’s no secret that there have been tensions and divisions within the party as the extreme right seeks to impose its beliefs upon the more moderate wing.  Perhaps by throwing the primaries to the extremists, the GOP powers that be are getting a feel for the actual numerical strength of the group, and by that determining whether or not it’s time to bind or bounce them from the negotiation tables?  A massive loss in the general election would give the more moderate members of the party all the ammunition they need to separate the wheat from the chaff (or vice versa, should the extremists manage to defy the odds and pull off a win).

And there is another spectre hanging over this entire mess: the increasing possibility that this absence of participation might result in the worse case scenario of a brokered GOP convention.  Should that happen, one potential outcome is that a heretofore unannounced candidate could come away with a nomination by virtue of back-room machinations rather than voter intent.  In terms of constituent public relations, this would be an insult to the voters that have already played by the rules of the primary game, and a reinforcement of the notion that U.S. politics truly has become the playground of the rich and connected.  In an era of increased outrage over the power of the rich, and a surging trend to “Occupy Everything,” I fail to see the strategic intelligence in declaring to your electoral base, “Thanks for you thoughts, but we’re going to take it from here and go our own way. You just go home and be quiet now.”

All of this is pure speculation, to be sure, but perhaps it is something to think about, hmm?  Something strange is going inside the GOP mentality right now, and rather than sit back and chortle at the self-inflicted chaos, the left would be wise to pay attention.

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