31 May 2008

Puerto Rico Voters Will Lay Low On Sunday

Back to basics.

While the drama of who will receive how many delegates from Florida and Michigan gets underway today, Puerto Rico gears up for its primary tomorrow. Their polls are open from 8 am to 3 pm.

My man Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com gives us his take on what the voter turnout is likely to be:

And as such, taking the high and low end of the range, we'd estimate that somewhere between 34.7 percent and 64.0 percent of Puerto Rico's 1.27 million "likely voters" will actually turn out to vote. That would represent a turnout of between 441,000 and 813,000.

Puerto Rican officials expect a turnout of about 500,000. Joe Sestak, who might be echoing the expectations of the Clinton camp, says 450,000 to 500,000. Puerto Rican elections expert Manuel Alvarez-Rivera guesses 600,000. The record for turnout in a Democratic primary is 870,000, when Ted Kennedy made a visit to the island in his challenge to Jimmy Carter.

The word around the internet is that the electorate in the PR will be less motivated to get out and vote for a variety of reasons, including the obvious one – this thing is pretty much over already.

“Traditionally people in Puerto Rico see the primaries as something far removed from their political reality,” said Angel Rosa, a political science professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. “They don’t see this primary as any kind of opportunity to send a message to the United States.”

Nate Silver’s number crunching turned up an interesting phenomena, a sort of Get Out The Vote Catch-22. One of only things Clinton has left to talk about is the “popular vote”. Although it has always been an irrelevant statistic in the Democratic nomination process, it is a concept that seems to have become popular with the public after the 2000 general election meltdown in Florida. In order to get closer to Obama’s popular vote tally, Clinton needs to have a net gain of hundreds of thousands of votes in the last three primaries. Puerto Rico presents her best chance of gaining large numbers of votes. However, as Nate says below:

Moreover, there may be something of an inverse relationship between turnout and Clinton's performance. The GQR poll says that Clinton's margin is 19 points among likely voters, but only 13 points among all voters.

So if Clinton wants to maximize her percentage of the vote, she might hope for a lowish turnout. However, Clinton not only needs to maximize her percentage of the vote; she also needs to maximize turnout.

Basically, it looks like Camp Clinton finds itself entangled in a Gordian Knot, better known as the Democratic primary system. The harder they pull against it, the tighter the party rules Clinton's top advisors spent the last ten years perfecting are going to choke their own campaign.

The good thing is, the folks at Camp Clinton only have four days left to torture themselves (and us) - the last primary will finally be over Tuesday night once Montana and South Dakota close their polls.


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