An “Avalanche” of 20-25% of Eligible Voters is Not Enough

A headline in the Des Moines Register yesterday read: Iowa GOP Prepared for “Absolute Avalanche of Caucusgoers.” But when you get past all that, the actual numbers are revealing.

Kaufmann [Iowa GOP chair] said he can’t envision a scenario in which Republicans don’t surpass the 120,000-person mark, which has been a historical benchmark for both parties.

According to Dennis Goldford at the Iowa Caucus Project, only 20% of eligible caucusgoers participate during presidential elections. The national average for participating in presidential primaries/caucuses is 17-20% of eligible voters.

What is even more disturbing is that those numbers drop precipitously in midterms. For example, Iowa Republicans report that the number of caucusgoers was 60% less in 2014 than in presidential elections.

That is why Phil Keisling, former Oregon Secretary of State, writes so passionately about universal vote by mail (UVBM) in the current issue of the Washington Monthly. And these numbers are why he makes the case that even some Republicans might be interested in taking up the cause.

Universal vote by mail can also counter the outsized influence of extreme ideologues who thrive in the “micro-turnout” world of current party primary elections…

If 10 or 12 percent of registered voters in an average-turnout state choose to vote in the dominant party’s primary, the electoral math is pretty clear: win just 5 or 6 percent of your constituents’ votes in a competitive race, in the right primary, and you can pop the champagne corks. But when more than 50 percent of eligible Republicans and Democrats vote in primary elections—Oregon’s track record since 2000—each party’s more moderate voters have a far greater opportunity to be heard.

One has to wonder how the dynamics of the current Republican presidential primary might be different if “likely voters” included 50% of eligible voters. Perhaps that’s something the RNC should think about.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .