Analyst: Lower caucus turnout doesn't necessarily predict lower general election turnout

A stack of presidential preference cards is pictured at a Democratic Party caucus in Iowa City...
A stack of presidential preference cards is pictured at a Democratic Party caucus in Iowa City on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Matt Wilde/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 5, 2020 at 10:39 PM CST
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While Iowans await the final results from Monday’s Democratic caucuses, along with the official count of how many people participated, the Iowa Democratic Party has said turnout was much lower than it was preparing for.

In a statement given early Tuesday morning, Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure said that “early data indicates turnout is on pace for 2016.” Prior to the caucuses, party leaders said they were prepared to handle 50% more participants than in 2016, when about 170,000 people caucused.

Megan Goldberg, an American politics professor at Cornell College, said the assumption that more candidates this year would mean more participation wasn’t necessarily a good assumption.

But, Goldberg said this year’s lower turnout is a little concerning, for now. She said all the Democratic candidates have argued they have the ability to mobilize the party’s base and even bring back some Democrats who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and the turnout numbers don’t show that.

Primary turnout oftentimes isn’t related to general election turnout, according to Goldberg, so low caucus turnout doesn’t necessarily translate to low turnout in November.

“I do think the candidates are, A, going to have to make a better case that they’re able to sort of mobilize, and also I think a lot of those campaigns are going to have to go back and think about the strategies so that when we get to the general election, Democrats can actually mobilize the way they would need to in order to beat Trump,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said the first opportunity to really see how well Democratic candidates can rally their support will be on Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states all across the country will hold their Democratic primaries or caucuses.

Goldberg said not only will that represent a much larger portion of the population than the Iowa caucuses, but by then, the Democratic field could be winnowed down, so the choices voters have to make then will be simpler.