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Republican Turnout Lags Behind 2008, 2000 Races

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters at a Super Tuesday night in Boston, Massachusetts. Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters at a Super Tuesday night in Boston, Massachusetts. Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Dissatisfaction with the Republican presidential candidates contributed to lower voter turnout in this year’s early primary contests, compared with participation in 2008 and 2000, a new study suggests.

Of the 13 states that have held Republican primaries so far, 8 had lower turnouts than four years ago, the Bipartisan Policy Center and American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate in Washington reported yesterday.

The problem for Republicans “lies not with the process but rather with their candidates,” Curtis Gans, the director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, wrote in a commentary accompanying the findings.

Just 20 percent of Republicans have a strongly favorable opinion about front-runner Mitt Romney, Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll in Princeton, New Jersey, wrote on the organization’s website on March 6.

The five states with a higher turnout than 2008 all allow independents, Democrats or both groups to vote in Republican primaries. In those five states -- South Carolina, Vermont, Michigan, Ohio and New Hampshire -- turnout was lower this year than in 2000, when George W. Bush defeated John McCain for the Republican nomination.

Bush was unopposed for renomination in 2004, and McCain won the 2008 nomination over Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

Non-Binding Contest

Also contributing to this year’s lower turnout was the non-binding nature of Missouri’s Feb. 7 primary, which didn’t allocate national convention delegates to candidates. In Virginia, the March 6 primary included only Romney and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas because former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot.

The lower turnout may carry over into the general election against President Barack Obama even if Republicans move to unite against him in November, the report suggested.

“The divisions within the party, the lack of enthusiasm with the primary candidates by a large element of the party and the comparatively low turnout may signal a turnout decline in this year’s election,” the report said.

About 7.85 million people voted in the first 13 primaries this year, or 11.5 percent of the voting-age population of 68.1 million in those states. The study didn’t include states that held caucuses.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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