Sabato’s Crystal Ball: THE PRIMARY TURNOUT BOOM
One of the basic facts of American politics is that citizens will turn out to vote when they feel they have something to vote for. That was the case in 2004, when a record 122 million ballots were cast in an election that was essentially a referendum on the presidency of George W. Bush. And that has been the case again so far this year, as the nation begins the process of selecting a successor to one of its most controversial presidents ever.
Already turnout records (measured here in terms of actual votes cast) have been smashed in Iowa and New Hampshire, most spectacularly by the Democrats but also by the Republicans as well. And it is likely that the all-time high for a primary season of 35 million votes cast, set back in 1988, will be surpassed this year by millions and millions of votes.
Like 1988, this year features an open presidential race with no incumbent on the ballot. Like 1988, both parties have different winners emerging from Iowa and New Hampshire. And like 1988, there is a huge Super Tuesday votefest that lies dead ahead early in the nominating process. But there is a significant difference this time than two decades ago. Then, Super Tuesday was a Southern-oriented event. This year’s vote on Feb. 5 is larger and much more national in scope, with 15 primaries plus an array of caucuses scheduled from Massachusetts to California.
There is no question that the dramatically “front-loaded” 2008 nominating process is one that many in the political community love to hate. But by giving so many states the unprecedented opportunity to vote within the opening weeks of the primary season, it offers much of the country the chance to have a meaningful voice in the process that it has rarely if ever had. Vote-rich states such as California, Florida, New York and Illinois, this year will not just be big prizes in the general election but in the nominating process as well.
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