What caused the big drop in Iowa Republican primary turnout?

Earlier this year, I would have predicted high Republican turnout for Iowa’s June 3 primary elections. The five-way race for the U.S. Senate nomination was highly competitive, as was the six-way contest in the open third Congressional district. Multiple candidates contested GOP primaries in the first and second Congressional districts too. The 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses, which involved going out for an hour or more on a cold night in January, attracted a record turnout of roughly 122,000 people.

Yet according to unofficial results, just 158,031 Iowans cast ballots in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, and 156,275 cast ballots in the governor’s race, where Terry Branstad had a token challenger.

The 2010 midterm election saw much higher Republican turnout, with some 227,404 people voting for one of the three GOP gubernatorial candidates. There weren’t any high-profile statewide Republican primary contests in 2006, but in the 2002 midterm year, 199,234 Iowans cast ballots in the three-way GOP primary for governor, and 197,096 Iowans cast ballots in the two-way GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

In IA-03, five of the six Republican candidates raised enough money to run district-wide campaigns before this year’s primary. Yet only 42,948 Iowans voted in a Congressional district with 160,660 active Republican voters as of June 2014. The seven-way 2010 GOP primary in IA-03 attracted more than 46,000 votes in a district that included only one-fifth of the state’s population at the time and 118,850 active Republican voters. (Iowa lost one of its Congressional districts after the 2010 census).

A similar story took shape in IA-02, where about 30,500 people cast ballots in this year’s GOP primary, compared to nearly 40,000 who voted in the 2010 primary, at a time when the district covered one-fifth of the state’s population rather than one-fourth.

In this thread, please share your thoughts on why Republicans didn’t show up to vote in larger numbers this year. Julie Stauch, a veteran of many Democratic campaigns, speculated that the low turnout “is the cumulative result of every extreme and outrageous statement over the last four years. The current Republicans in Iowa are only talking to those who agree with them 100 percent, which creates a rapidly shrinking base as every outrageous statement drives away a few more people. We can see the effect of this from the loss of 40 percent of the 2010 participants. That’s a serious decline over any range of time, but very bad over four years.”

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  • Possibilities

    Branstad is respected by two of my favorite teachers(genuinely good people) of all time.   I know for a fact that Branstad gets votes from public employees and business owners that get government contracts) that typically don’t vote in a Republican primary.  These same folks aren’t going to come out for a Bill Northey or Kim Reynolds endorsed candidate, at least not yet.  

    David Young and Monte Shaw don’t make me lose sleep at night, so I don;t think they are slash and burn quasi-anarchists or anything.  I know the DCCC and other group would try to teach me otherwise, but I am a registered D that has always voted as an independent. If they don’t bother me, they don’t really appeal to conservatives IMO.  Brad Zaun, try as he might still has to vote for things or support things behind the scenes that are good for his growing area of the state.  

    I think people were just tired of hearing Jacobs name on their TVs as well. If I had taken a Republican ballot in the primary (I did not) I would have voted for Jacobs, if that tells you anything.  

  • Economy?

    Could the improving economy have a big effect?  Driving down turnout and interest?  If so, the Democrats should have seen a similar loss in turnout, is this the case?

    • Democratic turnout was low

      because basically nothing was happening except in the first Congressional district. You don’t expect lots of people to vote in a primary election unless there are competitive primaries.

      I have not heard of any connection between a better economy and lower turnout. I would guess many Republicans just weren’t inspired by any of the candidates.