Politics & Policy

It’s All about Turnout for Trump in Iowa

Supporters wait for Trump in Iowa City, Iowa, January 26, 2016. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

We know two things about the Iowa caucuses. People often change their minds at the last minute: Think of shock winners John Kerry in 2004 and Rick Santorum in 2012. And the complexity of the caucuses makes for a low turnout; enthusiasm for Barack Obama in 2008 raised turnout all the way to 16 percent of registered Democrats.

Those two facts make Donald Trump a very shaky front-runner in Iowa. His supporters — who skew towards the less-educated, the working class, and people who are alienated from the entire political process — are a challenge to get to a caucus in large numbers, especially given that many will probably be first-time caucus-goers. A new analysis by Nate Cohn of Civis Analytics “shows that Trump is winning 40 percent of the vote among those who have less than a 20 percent chance of actually going to the polls,” reported Doug Schoen — a veteran pollster, longtime Clinton supporter, and Fox News contributor. “And he only had 29 percent of the vote amongst those that are over 80 percent likely to vote.”

RELATED: Can Trump Win with New Voters?

In addition, many of Trump’s diehard backers are actually independents and Democrats. But to vote in the GOP caucuses, they must be registered Republicans.

You’d think that Trump would have gone the extra mile to register new voters or get them to switch registration. Trump backers in Iowa assure me that voters can do that on the spot at the caucus, but you’d think they’d try to avoid problems of too few forms or confusion by signing people up early.

So far, there’s no evidence of that. NBC News notes that there are presently only 612,112 registered GOP voters in Iowa, down a full 11,353 from the total of a year ago. In the 62 Iowa counties that have at least 3,000 registered Republicans, only three counties have shown any increase.

If turnout soars next Monday, fueled by a flood of new Trump voters, he is likely to win. A new Monmouth University poll is predicated on a turnout of 170,000 caucus-goers — up from the 2012 totals of 122,000. The poll has Trump ahead by 30 percent to 23 percent. Marco Rubio gets 15 percent and Ben Carson, 10 percent. But if turnout is only 130,000 — barely above that of 2012 — then the poll predicts a tie, with both Cruz and Trump at 26 percent, Rubio at 15 percent, and Carson at 12 percent.

RELATED: Can the GOP Win Without Trump’s Voters?

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, concluded that “turnout is basically what separates Trump and Cruz right now.” He added, “Trump’s victory hinges on having a high number of self-motivated, lone-wolf caucus-goers show up Monday night.” If the caucus attendees are primarily existing Republicans, Cruz has an edge: The Monmouth poll has him winning those voters by 28 percent to 23 percent.

Who has the best ground game dedicated to ensuring turnout at the caucuses? Indisputably, it is Cruz.

So who has the best ground game dedicated to ensuring that a candidate’s supporters get to a caucus at 7 p.m. next Monday? Indisputably, it is Cruz. He has modeled his turnout operation after the data-driven example of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. When Monmouth asked respondents in their survey whether a campaign had contacted them, 45 percent said the Cruz campaign had contacted them. Only 13 percent said they had been reached by Trump.

Chuck Laudner is Trump’s state director for Iowa. He played a key role in Rick Santorum’s photo-finish victory over Mitt Romney in the 2012 caucuses, and he has cleverly used Trump rallies to build a database of potential caucus-goers. He is sensitive to criticism that the Trump infrastructure isn’t up to that of the other candidates. At a news conference last week, he said: “I feel fantastic, I know we go radio silent and reach out to people who normally wouldn’t be caught dead at caucus events, but I feel good about our chances and our reach.”

#share#But not everyone is convinced that Trump’s turnout machine in Iowa is as well-oiled as it will need to be. Andrew Boucher is a veteran of presidential primaries in his native New Hampshire and his current home in South Carolina. In 2012, he was national political director of Santorum for President, so he knows something about the complexities of turning out voters in Iowa. He is not working for any presidential candidate. “It’s interesting in what I’m not hearing from the Trump people in Iowa,” he told me, adding:

I hear about polls, but I don’t hear numbers of or even mentions of caucus captains, county chairs, field offices, phone banks, doors knocked, etc. Those are the standard metrics that campaigns always make sure are in any story about their grassroots infrastructure. Unless they don’t want to talk about them.

Indeed, I spoke with one person familiar with the caucus process in Iowa who reported that other campaigns had voter-contact phone banks that used “serial dialers,” which automatically connect the campaign volunteer to the next number. Many Trump volunteers in phone banks, however, were stuck with outdated cellphones that forced them to physically dial all ten digits of the next number — a great time waster.

#related#Donald Trump has always been a tightwad when it comes to key elements of his campaign. Chris Wallace of Fox News was visibly shocked to see how few staffers were working in his Manhattan headquarters during a tour given by the Donald. And Trump has called money spent on pollsters “a complete waste.” He has taken pride in just how little of his own money he has spent on the campaign (he has taken in several million dollars in small donations). This month, at a Trump rally in Pensacola, Fla., the candidate raged against “the bastard” who had installed a faulty microphone. “Whoever the hell brought this mic system, don’t pay the son of the b***h,” he fumed. In reality, a local Trump volunteer told me, organizers had used a low-bid provider because they didn’t have the budget for anyone else.

If Donald Trump loses Iowa, it will because he failed to get enough new voters to the caucuses. It would be a supreme irony if that happened because the man who boasts about how much he spends on his gilded hotels and richly appointed jet neglected to put the resources into good old-fashioned voter outreach.

— John Fund is NRO’s national-affairs correspondent.

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