As Hillary Clinton limps out of Iowa having managed to avoid a loss, the Democrat party establishment may exhale that it dodged an upset bid from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.
While Hillary stays on track to win the nomination, the party has a deeper problem: Turnout for the Democrat caucus collapsed from 2008.
Eight years ago, when Clinton was the favorite to defeat Barack Obama and John Edwards in the caucus, around 220,000 Democrats turned out. The Democrat turnout was almost double the Republican turnout, a clear sign of Democrat enthusiasm after 8 years of the Bush Presidency.
This year, however, just over 170,000 Democrats turned out to caucus, in a contest that was widely regarded, and broadcast by the media, as a nail-biter. Despite a massive turnout operation by the Clinton campaign and record-breaking rallies from Berne Sanders, Democrat turnout dropped around 25 percent from 2008.
The Republican turnout was around 180,000, the highest turnout in its history. It is also the first time more Republicans turned out when both races were contested.
Perhaps the choice between a career politician facing possible federal indictment and a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont wasn’t the most compelling choice for Iowa Democrats.
The boost in Republican turnout can’t simply be dismissed as the attraction of a larger-than-life celebrity candidate. There is no doubt Donald Trump had an impact on the Republican turnout, but he did lose, by not a small amount. A 4-point loss in a race where four candidates received at least 10 percent of the vote is a pretty significant margin.
The Democrat National Committee, in an obvious attempt to support Clinton, has worked strenuously to downplay its primary contest. The few debates scheduled were held on weekends, during the height of the Holidays or in conflict with the NFL playoffs. Ratings for the Democrat debates were significantly lower than the Republican events.
The flip side of minimizing the impact of a possible Hillary Clinton debate stumble, though, is that voter enthusiasm is tapped down. Debates give voters a chance to “root for” their candidate, driving up interest in the contest. Marco Rubio was no doubt an enormous beneficiary of Donald Trump’s decision to skip the last debate. It afforded him extra time in the spotlight at the exact moment voters were tuning into the race.
The DNC’s handling of debates compounded an already existing problem for the party. After almost 8 years of an Obama Presidency, all the enthusiasm is with Republicans. The GOP is now the party hoping for real change in Washington.
Hillary’s message of “new boss, same as the old boss” certainly doesn’t inspire enthusiasm.