Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Why a low turnout in Iowa favors Ted Cruz over Donald Trump

Depending on the voter turnout, the outcome of Monday's GOP caucuses may be an tossup between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

View video

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (top left) applauds after Arden Jurskis (left) and Kenzy Peach (right) were just engaged to be married in front of Cruz, at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa January 31, 2016.

Jim Young/Reuters

View photo

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently came under fire for sending mailers to Iowa residents that warned them of a “voting violation.”

“Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record,” the flier cautioned. “Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well.”

About these ads

But while social pressure, however questionably exerted, has been proven to be an effective way to boost voter turnout, it may not be in Mr. Cruz’s best interest to have maximal participation in the caucus Monday night.

Recommended:Catchiest campaign ads of 2014: nine pitches that made an impression

According to Republican strategists, Cruz has a real shot of winning, despite his current second place standing to Donald Trump – but only if turnout doesn’t exceed the record in 2012 of 122,000 Republican voters.

Cruz’s fan base of evangelical conservatives have a long record of voter participation. Fans of Mr. Trump, on the other hand, will likely be young, first-time caucus goers. If he can rally a substantial number of them to go to the polls, the real estate mogul will secure a win.

"The known unknown is do fans vote," Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler told Politico’s Shane Goldmacher, casting doubt on Trump’s infatuated crowds’ likelihood in actually participating in the caucus.

The tipping point, however, is unclear – experts estimate that it’s between 135,000 and 150,000 voters. Either way, Cruz supporters are hoping for the number to dip below 135,000.

“If that number goes well above that, Donald Trump has a shot,” Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has campaigned with Cruz nearly all month, told Mr. Goldmacher. “If that number is that or below that, Ted Cruz is in control.”

But it’s going to be a long shot. Both public polling and internal metrics indicate that Trump has gained the larger electorate.

About these ads

Last week’s Monmouth poll projected that if the turnout was 130,000, then Trump and Cruz would be tied with 26 percent each. But the same poll estimated the turnout to be 170,000, in which case Trump could easily prevail. And if up to 200,000 showed up, it would be a landslide.

Historically, the GOP turnout at the caucuses has not topped 20 percent of the state’s registered Republicans. The process is more strenuous than voting in the general election, and often entails at least an hour of the voter’s time.

But Trump’s camp is banking on their supporters.

“The notion that, you know, you gotta spend 30 minutes in a room and have to write a name down on private piece of paper and turn it in is gonna dissuade these people from Iowa is very disingenuous when they come out every night and they spend hours waiting to come to a Trump event,” Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, said.

Although there is little doubt that Trump will win the plurality of the votes if the turnout is high enough, Cruz has set up an impressive ground game across the state.

The Cruz campaign says it will be deploying 12,000 volunteers on Monday in about 90 percent of Iowa’s 1,681 precincts. According to campaign manager Jeff Roe, there is exactly 9,131 people torn between Trump and his boss.

“It's not like kernels in a jar at the state fair,” Mr. Roe said. “These are people who have told us this. This isn't some random data sampling of anonymized information that we gleaned out of some book. These are conversations that we've been having for the entire campaign.”

As reported by The Associated Press, snowfall is expected to coincide with the caucuses Monday night.

As far as Trump is concerned, well, there is no concern.

"You're from Iowa, are you afraid of snow?" he asked supporters at an event last weekend.