Guest Host: Indira Lakshmanan

People listen as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L on Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa.

People listen as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L on Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Iowa caucuses are just days away, and New Hampshire’s primary comes a week later. Several candidates in both parties are relying on high turnout rates to propel their campaigns to victory. Businessman Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz are in a close race in Iowa with questions about how many of Trump’s supporters will actually come out to caucus. On the Democratic side, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is hoping for a high turnout of young voters to give him the win over Hillary Clinton. Guest host Indira Lakshmanan and guests discuss who’s likely to vote in these early contest states and what it could mean for the rest of the presidential race.


  • Elaine Kamarck Senior fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution; author of "Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates"
  • Nate Cohn Covers elections, polling and demographics for The Upshot, a New York Times politics and policy site
  • Timothy Hagle Professor of political science, University of Iowa
  • Andrew Smith Director, University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a nonpartisan, academic public opinion research center for governments, nonprofits, and faculty researchers; author of ""First Primary: New Hampshire's Outsize Role in Presidential Nominations"


  • 10:06:54

    MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Official turnout figures show only a fraction of registered voters actually show up for primaries and caucuses. But in a fractured race, like 2016, candidates need high turnout from each of their loyalists to win in Iowa and New Hampshire. Joining me in the studio to discuss who's likely to vote in these early contests and what it could mean for who ultimately becomes the nominee for both parties, Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution and Nate Cohn of the New York Times.

  • 10:07:27

    MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANAnd joining us by phone from Iowa City, Iowa, Timothy Hagle of the University of Iowa. Joining us later in the show from Durham, New Hampshire will be Andrew Smith of the University of New Hampshire survey Center. Welcome to all of you.

  • 10:07:42

    MR. NATE COHNGreat to be here.

  • 10:07:43

    MS. ELAINE KAMARCKGreat to be here.

  • 10:07:44

    LAKSHMANANAnd if you, the listener, would like to call us, you can join us with your questions and your comments about the key role of voter turnout in early primaries and caucuses. You can call us on 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at You can join us on Facebook or send us a tweet to @drshow. So Elaine, let's start with you. The Iowa caucuses are just four days away and the New Hampshire primary comes a week after that.

  • 10:08:16

    LAKSHMANANRemind us why these two states get to go first. Such a privileged position.

  • 10:08:23

    KAMARCKThey are in a privileged position and they do have an enormous impact on the rest of the race. It wasn't always the case. They were always early, frankly, but being early didn't necessarily mean they were important. The big thing that happened was between 1968 and 1972, the Democrats underwent a huge reform movement in their party and what this reform movement did to Iowa was it took a kind of obscure process of 1600 precinct caucuses, required that they all be held at the same time on the same day and required that everybody attending them announce their presidential preference.

  • 10:09:08

    KAMARCKSo what happened is that they turned the reform rules, turned the Iowa caucuses into what Senator Howard Baker called the functional equivalent of a primary. So those caucuses were going on for many, many years, but suddenly, in 1976 when Jimmy Carter won them, the press was able to understand what was going on, to cover them as if were a primary and they became the first indication of where voters were going.

  • 10:09:39

    KAMARCKNew Hampshire was also always first, but when the entire system shifted from a party-run system to a public system, a primary system, the momentum generated in the New Hampshire primary became extraordinarily valuable. Much more valuable than it had been in the old days when most of the process was a delegate process that was controlled by party leaders.

  • 10:10:07

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, tell us both of these states have written into their laws that they have to be first. Explain to us how it is that Iowa state law and New Hampshire state law can trump national federal law. How is that possible?

  • 10:10:19

    KAMARCKBecause the laws read, in each state, that their contest shall be one week before any similar contest in the United States. So what happens is they wait till the very, very end and if some state decides that they're going to have their primary in early January, then, in theory, New Hampshire could decide to have its primary in December. And Iowa could decide, then, to have its primary eight days before that in December. In fact, in -- a couple years ago, those of us who work in party rules were very worried that this process was undergoing a leap-frog process where primaries were going to end up at Christmastime.

  • 10:11:03

    KAMARCKAnd everybody then went into full cooperation mode, which is kind of unusual for Washington these days and the Democratic party and the Republican party got together and together, sort of put a lid on this. And so now, the two parties are, in fact, in agreement on when the process starts and the first four states in that process.

  • 10:11:25

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, I'm sure that to people who don't live in Iowa or New Hampshire it seems quite unfair. Tim Hagle, your state comes in for a lot of criticism from those who say it doesn't represent the rest of America and that a small number of voters play an outsized role in framing both campaign issues and skewing the nomination process. How do you respond to that?

  • 10:11:46

    MR. TIMOTHY HAGLEWell, to borrow a line I heard from a fan of the New England Patriots, they hate us because they ain't us.

  • 10:11:54

    LAKSHMANANAll right, all right.

  • 10:11:55

    HAGLENo. You know, to answer this, obviously, and I'm sure you can assume this is the case, I get this question a lot, that people say, well, why Iowa and they kind of run through a list of criticisms. But a lot of those criticisms are really red herrings or straw men, that they really don't have anything to do with the process itself. Iowa gets a lot of attention because it goes first. It gets complaints 'cause, oh, you don't pick the winner. But if we did pick the eventual nominee every time, then there'd be complaints that you're too influential even more than you already are.

  • 10:12:26

    HAGLEThe thing is, is that Iowa's a small state. It has an opportunity for candidates that are not well known that don't have a big war chest to come in and make their case to the people, do it in a grass roots retail politics sort of way that lets them build their campaign in a way that if you started in a big state it couldn't. Demographically, Iowa may not be the same as some other states, but that doesn't really matter if you're looking at the ideology.

  • 10:12:51

    HAGLEPeople complain, to a certain extent, that the Republicans in the state are too conservative, but you can also complain the Democrats are too liberal and, in fact, the Iowa caucuses picked the last two presidents who actually went on to lose the New Hampshire primary and that's President Bush and President Obama. So it's a mix in this state in a variety of ways and, you know, other states may or may not have an opportunity to do something down the road. Iowa isn't that influential.

  • 10:13:16

    HAGLEAnd the people here in Iowa have been doing this for a while, as was indicated, since the early '70s. So they're very good at it. They understand the process. They take it very seriously. They look at the candidates very closely and try to do a good job in picking who they think would be the best representative for their party.

  • 10:13:30

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, the state, population-wise, is small, relatively inexpensive to run in, as you point out, which gives many candidates a chance to make their case in person to voters in a way that they couldn't in a state like California, for example. But you that the criticism of Iowa as a farm state, not urban, lack of diversity, that that doesn't hold?

  • 10:13:51

    HAGLEWell, you know, every state's going to be different. Every state's going to have pros and cons if you were to try to pick some other state. Iowa certainly has an agricultural economy, but so do many other states as well. Maybe not to the same extent as Iowa, or at least not known for the same extent. And actually we do have cities in Iowa. Now, they may not be the size of Washington, D.C. or New York or whatever, but yeah, people go to Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and Davenport and Council Bluffs and Sioux City so there's regional centers, regional urban areas as well here, too.

  • 10:14:19

    LAKSHMANANAnd, of course, people do get paid off for being good at retail politics. I'm thinking of Rick Santorum winning in the last cycle, although in the end, he didn't get to go all the way. Elaine, you wanted to jump in with a comment.

  • 10:14:33

    KAMARCKJust a quick point. Because of the lack of diversity in Iowa and New Hampshire, in recent years, both political parties have added to the first tranche, so to speak, of primaries two other states. South Carolina, which is a southern state with a large African American population, and Nevada, a western state with a large Latino population. So that was attempt by both parties to add some diversity to the early contests.

  • 10:15:01

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Nate Cohn, how reliable are the polls that we're reading every single day and being bombarded with on the airwaves from the caucuses and primary states. It seems to me as if the results vary depending on how the surveys are conducted so how much stock should we even put in them?

  • 10:15:19

    COHNThe polls are even less accurate than they usually are. In a general election, they can be wrong. We've seen that before. And in a primary, they're even less accurate and that's because you have all of the concerns that usually make it difficult to conduct surveys and then you add on particular challenges with the primaries. The turnout is lower, which makes it more important to model the likely electorate appropriately. The sample sizes that pollsters are able to get for the small -- the number of voters are smaller so the margin of error increases.

  • 10:15:44

    COHNVoters are making up their minds later because they don't have partisanship to fall back on. In a traditional Democrat versus Republican race, 90 percent of voters know who they're gonna vote for. If you're a Republican right now, you like most of the candidates and late-breaking events can really change your mind. And, you know, the Republican race right now is a great example of that. There's a debate tonight. There's a major candidate who might not even participate in that debate and...

  • 10:16:05

    LAKSHMANANWhose name we shall not mention.

  • 10:16:06

    COHNWhose name is Donald J. Trump.

  • 10:16:08

    LAKSHMANANI think we all know who is. That's right.

  • 10:16:10

    COHNAnd those late-breaking events really make a difference. And on average, the polls can be off by a lot.

  • 10:16:15

    LAKSHMANANOkay. Well, give us an example. I mean, you're looking at every single poll and parsing them very carefully. What are the ones that you think of that, you know, there's some disparity, for example, between the Clinton and the Bernie Sanders polls because of different methods?

  • 10:16:30

    COHNSo in the Iowa race right now, the polls are neatly divided by the basis methodology that they use. The polls that are conducted by calling people who are registered to vote from official lists of registered voters. And this is a little arcane, but when you register to vote, you often offer your telephone number when you register on that voter registration form. Campaigns can purchase that information and call you. If you conduct a poll that way, Clinton leads. If you conduct a poll the way most mainstream media organizations conduct a survey, which is by dialing random telephone numbers, Bernie Sanders usually leads.

  • 10:17:01

    LAKSHMANANInteresting. So you're saying that the people who are those who are actually registered to vote give an edge to Hillary Clinton.

  • 10:17:08

    COHNThat's what it seems. There are other potential explanations, but what is certainly true is that when you are calling the people who you know are registered to vote, Hillary Clinton does better.

  • 10:17:17

    LAKSHMANANAll right. And historically, take us back to 2004 to 2008, '12 who, when people were the candidates who were leading in Iowa or New Hampshire one month before, did they end up becoming the winners of those races?

  • 10:17:32

    COHNOften, they did not. In 2012, Rick Santorum was in third place at this point still. In 2008, it was a close race and Obama would ultimately win by a very comfortable margin. And in 2004, John Kerry had just now pulled ahead of Howard Dean and he would ultimately win by 20 points. So a lot can happen over the last week and then for good measure, the polls can be wrong on top of that.

  • 10:17:53

    LAKSHMANANSo something of a little bit of a frontrunner fallacy there. Quick comment, Elaine?

  • 10:17:57

    KAMARCKYeah, the quick comment is that in Iowa, voters can register at the caucus and so that's why Bernie Sanders is hoping for a late surge.

  • 10:18:07

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Good point. We are going to take a short break. I look forward to hearing your comments and your questions. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:01

    LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me in the studio this hour to talk about early voting states and turnout and why it matters in the 2016 campaign, Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow of governance studies and the Brookings Institution in Washington, author of "Primary Politics: Everything You Need To Know About How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates."

  • 10:20:23

    LAKSHMANANAnd Nate Cohn, he covers elections, polling and demographics for "The Upshot," a New York Times politics and policy site. And by phone from Iowa, Timothy Hagle, professor of political science at the University of Iowa. So Elaine, I want to go back to you and ask you how the primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, who are these people? Are they more likely to represent the average Joe and Joann or are they the extreme wings of their parties?

  • 10:20:51

    KAMARCKConventional wisdom has it that the primary voters are more partisan than your ordinary voter. These have traditionally been people who are totally dedicated to their political party, who always vote, who volunteer in campaigns and really participate. What that means is that in the Republican party, there's a slant to the right among these voters. We call it the base. In the Democratic party, there's a slant to the left.

  • 10:21:24

    KAMARCKBut by and large, these voters also are professionals so to speak, in a funny way, and they care about winning in the end. So the real question is how many new people come into the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary because that can change results.

  • 10:21:42


  • 10:21:42

    COHNThe caucus electorate is even more conservative or liberal, depending on which side you're talking about, than an average primary electorate. The people that show up are committed activists. On the Republican side, 49 percent -- I'm sorry, 47 percent of voters identified as very conservative in 2012. There was no primary state in the country where so many voters identified as very conservative.

  • 10:22:04

    LAKSHMANANHum. So it really is going to the far right or the far left of each party and that, of course, in some way, you could say, skews it. It certainly affects how people are campaigning in those states. We have an email from Wesley who says, "are the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary open or closed? Can voters who are registered as independents participate and what percentage of younger voters who support Bernie Sanders are actually registered?" Tim, can you help us out with that?

  • 10:22:32

    HAGLEYeah. Technically, I suppose you could say that the Iowa caucuses are closed, but you can register for whatever party you want to caucus with that night. And, in fact, we saw in 2008 that some 20,000 people that were registered as no party, which is what we call independents here in Iowa, switched their registration to Democratic so they could participate in the Democratic caucuses. So that's where you see...

  • 10:22:53

    LAKSHMANANIs that sort of strategic?

  • 10:22:54

    HAGLE...a big influx of young people. In 2008, you saw that for Ron Paul in 2012 and that's what some combination of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are hoping for this year, that they're bringing in a lot of new people. The New Hampshire primary is open in the sense that you can be registered Republican or an independent and still participate.

  • 10:23:12

    LAKSHMANANAnd so, Tim, is that strategic when people will "switch sides" and caucus on the other party, not the party they're actually supporting because -- are they seeking to get the weakest candidate for the Democrats or the Republicans if they belong to a different party interest?

  • 10:23:28

    HAGLEWe always hear talk of that, but I don't think too many people do that. For the most part, Iowans take this process seriously. But what it is, is when you have a candidate that's reaching beyond his or her particular party -- and like I said, a lot of people that are independents and may decide, hey, I really like that particular person, whether it was Obama in 2008 or Ron Paul in 2012 or you've got two choices this time, one on each side. So they really like a candidate, but you do have to be registered as a Republican or a Democrat to participate in their caucus.

  • 10:23:55

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, Tim, remind us how the Iowa caucus works because it is not a run-of-the-mill voting booth experience. You actually have to show up and make a commitment. I think on Democratic side, it's an hour and a half long commitment. Tell us how it works.

  • 10:24:10

    HAGLEWell, the length of the caucus will vary, that basically what happens, they all start at 7:00, but you really need to be there at about 6:30 to check in, particularly if you're in a precinct where you're going to have a pretty big turnout. And here where I am, in Johnson County where the University of Iowa is, a lot of Democrats are registered and so the size of the caucuses tend to be pretty big, sometimes as much as 600 people in one precinct.

  • 10:24:31

    HAGLEThen, you just check in. You go through some administrative stuff, picking people to be permanent chairs of the caucus and the secretary and so forth and then you get down to business. And you usually have representatives from each of the candidates that will give a little speech and talk about their candidate and then the process begins. And here's where you see a difference between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans just take a vote and count it up and send in the results and then go on to other party business.

  • 10:24:55

    HAGLEFor the Democrats, they actually, physically, get up and walk around the room. And as was indicated earlier, they basically declare, yes, I support, in this case, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or Martin O'Malley or even undecided, they can still pick. And then, negotiations occur for the Democrats, that if somebody doesn't reach what's called a viability level of 15 percent, then those people need to find a different candidate to support or try to lure somebody from one of the other camps over to theirs.

  • 10:25:19

    HAGLEAnd so that's where the Martin O'Malley people who look like they're probably not going to reach viability in a lot of precincts may be swayed to either the Sanders camp or the Clinton camp and that could affect the overall results. Once that process is done for the Democrats, and again, that may take a little bit longer depending on how evenly split their caucus is, then the Democrats also go on to other party business.

  • 10:25:39

    HAGLEThat includes things like picking delegates to the county convention, picking central committee members and then ultimately going on to the platform planks. And that's where things can take a little bit longer. So I've been in caucuses that have lasted only an hour, but I've also been in some that have lasted three hours. It just depends on what's going on and how contested the elections are and the platform planks.

  • 10:25:57

    LAKSHMANANWell, that is true commitment and it seems that it would sort of disadvantage voters who have other commitments out there for the evening or maybe who don't, you know, transportation issues. You know, I'm interested, Elaine, tell us a little bit more about, you know, he explained this caucus procedure where, in a way, it involves debating and negotiation skills. You have to say, no, I want this candidate or this is why. It also seems like in some very small precincts, could one family or one group of people swing the vote?

  • 10:26:30

    LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, tell us about sort of crossing lines. How do people make strategic decisions about if Martin O'Malley is not going to make it, who to swing their vote to?

  • 10:26:36

    KAMARCKWell, there's a lot of different things that go on in the caucuses, particularly in the Democratic side. I have seen video of caucuses that take place in literally somebody's house in a rural area where you caucus in the kitchen and somebody else caucuses in the living room. And then, what you see is people trying to convince each other and that's where having local, political support matters because those are people who tend to have a lot of friends and have a lot of friends in that precinct.

  • 10:27:13

    KAMARCKAnd this where the unknown candidates or the non establishment candidates can potentially run into trouble. If they don't make threshold, if there's, you know, they don't have the support, they don't have the friends in the precinct in the party, they can get cut out at this stage. And so that's why this is a very complicated process.

  • 10:27:34

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Tim, briefly explain to us how it works in the sense that it's not like a jury. You don't have to have unanimous decision on the Democratic side, but, you know, what threshold do people have to reach and then what happens when it's decided up? Is it a majority rules?

  • 10:27:50

    HAGLEWell, they do have to get at least that 15 percent. And then, what you have is, the Democrats have a little formula that they go through and each precinct, depending on its size and it's usually based on how many votes that party got in that precinct for the prior gubernatorial candidate. And so if it's a small rural precinct, the ones that, yeah, still could be held in somebody's living room or something like that if it's a really small precinct -- and these are set up by the usual districts -- that, you know, just a couple of people and you may not have that 15 percent, then you have -- once you get the initial negotiation -- a conversation is usually what we talk about, once that conversation is settled and the people that are remaining have that minimum of 15 percent, then a formula is used to determine the delegates for that particular precinct.

  • 10:28:35

    HAGLEAnd, again, bigger precincts have more delegates and so that's important for going on to the county convention, the district convention, the state convention and eventually the national. And so that formula is basically, you look at whatever the ultimate percentage is and so if you have let's say three candidates that are viable, then you look at what percentage each of them have, by what the overall number of people that were in that precinct and then figure out what percentage of delegates from that precinct each one gets.

  • 10:29:03

    LAKSHMANANOkay. Pretty complicated. But on the Republican side, much more like a primary. You get polled as you walk into the caucus and that's how the delegates are elected, correct?

  • 10:29:11

    HAGLENot quite as you walk in. Again, there are some preliminary things that go on. The candidate representatives get a chance to make their pitch to the group, but then, yeah, it becomes basically, you just have a ballot, you write the name on the ballot, turn it in, count it up and then they're all gathered. And we do take -- keep an eye on who wins in each precinct, who wins in each county, but that really doesn't affect anything in terms of the delegates at that stage.

  • 10:29:32

    HAGLEYou just wait until you see what the state totals are. And then, this year, on the Republican side, which is a first this time, is that the national -- the delegates to the national convention from Iowa will be tied to the caucus results in a proportional way.

  • 10:29:45

    LAKSHMANANOkay. Nate Cohn, you are a data expert at the table. What is the data telling you? Will we see a high turnout in Iowa as we did in 2008 for the Democrats and 2012 for the Republicans?

  • 10:29:58

    COHNIf I had to guess, I would say no. I think that there are two big data points that indicate something a lot more like a traditional caucus turnout than the huge surge and turnout that we saw in 2008. First is the pace of voter registration. People are not registering to vote at the same pace that they were eight years ago. It is astonishing, in my view, that the pace of voter registration in this election looks like it did at this time in 2012 when there was only one competitive race than it did in 2008.

  • 10:30:28

    COHNAnd, you know, the increase on the Democratic side and the Republican side is both fairly -- it's negligible on both sides. The second thing is what voters are actually saying. Most pollsters are asking a question -- they just simply ask them, are you definitely going to vote or are you probably going to vote or maybe you're not going to vote? And at this time in 2008, Barack Obama had a lead among people who said they would definitely vote and Bernie Sanders does not. Bernie Sanders trails by a wide margin among the people that say they will definitely vote.

  • 10:30:55

    COHNHe has a big edge among the people that say they will probably vote, but that additional level of uncertainty, to me, suggests that his voters are not as committed to turning out as Obama's were eight years ago. Now, that doesn't mean they won't show up. Nothing stops them. They can register on the night of the caucus. They can elect to turn out at the last moment. But as of now, I don't think that there are the same signs of a huge turnout.

  • 10:31:16

    LAKSHMANANHum. And you wrote recently in the New York Times that Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has, what you call, the biggest turnout challenge in this voting cycle. So that's more about this. Tell us why. Is he not doing enough to get these folks registered? We've read that his people have gone out and hired buses and they're providing transport to try to get young people who are college students who actually are from Iowa to come back there to caucus. So why is not working the way it worked for Obama?

  • 10:31:42

    COHNSo my suspicion is that it's not because of his organization, although I think Obama's was probably better. I think that, you know, we overestimate the extent that campaign turnout operations really make a difference. To me, the core problem for Bernie Sanders is that he is extraordinarily dependent on young voters and young voters just...

  • 10:32:00

    LAKSHMANANWasn't Obama?

  • 10:32:01

    COHNNot to the same extent. You know, Obama, for instance, was really strong among older black voters, although that's not a phenomenon in Iowa. He was strong among wealthier voters who turn out at high rates. And he had a -- he did all right among voters who traditionally vote in the caucus. He had this extra boost. He won by so much because he benefitted from high turnout among regular voters. But Bernie Sanders isn't that competitive without people who have not voted before and that's very different.

  • 10:32:28

    LAKSHMANANI'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Joining us now from his office in Durham, New Hampshire, is Andrew Smith of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire, a non partisan public opinion research center. He's co-author with David Moore of the recent book "First Primary: New Hampshire's Outsized Role In Presidential Nominations." Welcome to the show, Andy.

  • 10:32:48

    MR. ANDREW SMITHThank you. Good to be here.

  • 10:32:49

    LAKSHMANANYeah. So tell us what it looks like on the ground from your view in New Hampshire with the primary less than two weeks away. Who is on top in the polls there and how reliable are these polls?

  • 10:33:00

    SMITHWell, currently on top, Donald Trump is leading and you have a number of people from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich all tied for roughly second place. On the Democratic side, we're seeing Bernie Sanders with a expanding lead and I think the same concerns I would have for the Sanders winning here or winning big here are the ones that were expressed about turnout in Iowa. Sanders' support comes mostly from younger people and from people who have not voted in the primary before.

  • 10:33:33

    LAKSHMANANHum. Now, Donald Trump has this double-digit lead, but he also is the candidate the New Hampshire Republicans say they are least likely to vote for. Explain to us how those two things can be simultaneously true.

  • 10:33:46

    SMITHWell, if you know Donald Trump, I think you could understand that. No, I think that it's important to remember that what parties are trying to do during nomination contests is to find a candidate who's acceptable across the range of the party to make them be able to win in November. And typically, candidates who are divisive within their parties either don't win the nomination or if they do, they divide the party and the party is not as strong and loses the general election.

  • 10:34:13

    SMITHSo Donald Trump is the most popular Republican right now, but he's also the least popular Republican, which doesn't really bode well for a unified Republican party going forward. But I also should point out that none of the other Republican candidates are particularly popular across the range of the party. You did mention something about polls early on. I would say that polling in New Hampshire is notoriously unreliable and I say that as a pollster.

  • 10:34:37

    SMITHAnd it's not because it's difficult to figure out who's gonna show up or not, although that does have an impact on things. The biggest difference is that turnout in New Hampshire is so much higher than other states. For example, in 2008, we had about 54 percent of our voting eligible population voting in the primary, which is higher than many states get in presidential elections. So the people that are voting in New Hampshire are not just activists. They're just regular folks and they don't have the investment with a candidate that you see among activists in a state like Iowa.

  • 10:35:09

    SMITHSo we ask people who they're gonna vote for and they really don't know. We see that 20 to 25 to 35, as high as 46 percent in 2012 of primary voters say they made up their minds who they were gonna vote for in the last three days of the campaign. And upwards of 20 percent make up their minds on election day so polls are notoriously bad.

  • 10:35:29

    LAKSHMANANYeah, that strikes me particularly in New Hampshire it seems that people, as you say, they're sort of more rank and file, ordinary people perhaps, than those who participate in caucuses. But it seems like things that happen in the last couple of days can really swing a race. And I'm thinking of 2008, the primary and I was in the room when Hillary Clinton, at that cafe in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was asked a very emotional question, gave a very emotional answer, teared up and then suddenly surged to victory.

  • 10:35:55

    LAKSHMANANSo I imagine you're watching for things like that that could swing voters in the last minute.

  • 10:36:02

    SMITHThat's absolutely what we're looking for, but the difficulty is is that you can't really tell whether or not an event like that is going to have an impact or not so you're kind of flying blind and it makes it very difficult for prognosticators to figure out what's going to happen and I've come to realize over my years here that it's best just to sit back and watch the return to come in on election night rather than to really try to predict what's gonna happen.

  • 10:36:25

    LAKSHMANANThat's right. Not a very good crystal ball. But Andy Smith, tell us quickly about turnout in New Hampshire. High numbers expected on both sides in New Hampshire?

  • 10:36:34

    SMITHI think so. I think that -- again, we had record high turnout in 2008 and we've had increasing turnout for the last several years. And historically, New Hampshire has had the highest turnouts of any election, even in the midterm elections or, excuse me, elections in which there haven't been two competitive primaries, we've had over 30 percent turnout. So I expect this year, given the competitiveness of the race on both sides, the amount of money that's being spent that it's more like a general election. I anticipate the turnout to be very much like the 2008 turnout of over 50 percent.

  • 10:37:08

    SMITHBut it's important. And one of the things about New Hampshire that's, again, very unique is that we have so many new potential voters. So some colleagues of mine and I, Ken Johnson and Dante Scala at the Carsey School for Public Policy here, just did an analysis and found that between 2008 and 2015, fully 30 percent of potential voters either didn't live here in 2008 or weren't old enough to vote in 2008. So it's not the same state.

  • 10:37:34

    LAKSHMANANAll right. We're gonna take a short break now, but we're back, we're gonna go to your calls and your questions for our great panelists about early voting states and voter turnout. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:01

    LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me in the studio to talk about early voting states and why voter turnout matters, Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution and author of "Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know About How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates." Nate Cohn of the New York Times who covers elections, polling and demographics for the Upshot Site. And by phone from University of Iowa, Tim Hagle, Professor of Political Science.

  • 10:40:32

    LAKSHMANANAnd from the University of New Hampshire, Andy Smith, Director of the Survey Center. So, I want to go to some of the listeners who are already sending in tweets and emails. And we have one here from Mo who tweets us and says, is there work being done to get younger voters in their 20s and 30s more excited about primaries? Nate.

  • 10:40:53

    COHNI don't know whether it's about primaries in general. Certainly the campaigns, and particularly the Bernie Sanders campaign is focusing intensively on mobilizing young voters, his support almost exclusively -- his lead, if he has one, would entirely come from voters in their 20s and 30s. And I'm sure that's the emphasis of their grass roots ground operation.

  • 10:41:14

    LAKSHMANANRight. So Bernie Sanders is really focusing on that but of course, having to focus on getting them registered in time for the primary and the caucus...

  • 10:41:21

    COHNWell, the registration is not necessarily an issue in Iowa.

  • 10:41:24


  • 10:41:24

    COHNWhere they can register on the night of the caucus.

  • 10:41:25

    LAKSHMANANOn the same day. Yeah. Okay. And then, we have another tweet from David Roth who says, will Donald Trump's silent majority, typically unlikely voters, turn out and that's the big question, Elaine.

  • 10:41:35

    KAMARCKOh boy. That is the big question, and a lot of people are wondering about that. In Iowa, we always talk about the ground game, and the ground game is the ability to actually turn out people at the caucuses and then also to have people within those caucuses who are supporting the candidate and making sure that the votes are there, et cetera. It has been reported, I don't know, I haven't been to Iowa yet. I am going on Saturday. It has been reported that Trump's ground operation is spotty and weak.

  • 10:42:06

    KAMARCKAnd that Cruz's ground operation is very, very strong. Typically, that has mattered in Iowa, particularly in close races.

  • 10:42:15

    LAKSHMANANAll right, well Tim, you are there on the ground for us in Iowa. So tell us what is your sense about the turnout and particularly, it seems, that for two candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, high turnout is really going to matter for them more than it matters for others, right?

  • 10:42:32

    HAGLEIt does. And I think what's been said already is pretty much accurate that Donald Trump's ground game isn't as good as it should be. And I suppose spotty is a good way to characterize that. Ted Cruz has a very strong ground game, recognized pretty much the strongest in the state on the Republican side. For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton started a little bit earlier, learned her lesson from 2008, so she's been working on her ground game. So, Bernie Sanders is behind in that respect, but his is still pretty good as well.

  • 10:42:58

    HAGLEAnd the question is, who has the enthusiasm? And enthusiasm can often make up for a weaker ground game. Not always, but it can. One other thing that sort of ties into this as far as younger voters are concerned, and of course, being on a university campus, that's what I see is to the extent that people are trying to get the younger voters engaged in the process. And you see that sometimes a candidate will capture their imagination and really get that enthusiasm up and that's what can get them to participate.

  • 10:43:25

    HAGLEWe saw that in 2008 with Obama, 2012 with Ron Paul, and we're seeing that, for the Democrats this time with Bernie Sanders. You can get young people to turn out, but it just takes a little bit more work to do so.

  • 10:43:36

    LAKSHMANANSo Tim, quickly, on the Democratic and the Republican sides, what are their targets? Do they have percentages of, you know, percentage of registered voters who they're hoping will turn out? Or a hard number, a certain number, 100,000 something?

  • 10:43:53

    HAGLEWell, let's suppose that they have some goals that they're trying to reach. Usually campaigns, especially during the process where they're calling people and making contacts, they want to have a certain number each week or each month. Or whatever it happens to be, but obviously, they want to get everybody that they can turn out as possible. With the Sanders campaign, he is emphasizing younger voters. That's where a lot of his support tends to be. And so, they have to, as I was saying, you need to be a little bit more organized to make sure those folks turn out.

  • 10:44:16

    HAGLESo they are working on that. For Republicans, again, it's Trump that seems to be relying more on the newer voters and they do take more effort. But they're not concentrated in young people. In fact, talking to the Chair of the College Republicans here, she couldn't name any students, that she was aware of, that supported Trump, even though he did have a really big turnout when he was here at the University of Iowa last week. So, or this week. So it's a little unclear as to how they're targeting.

  • 10:44:41

    HAGLEAnd again, because Trump's ground game isn't as good, I think they're relying more on an air war sort of thing and a general enthusiasm to hope that people turn out on caucus night.

  • 10:44:51

    LAKSHMANANWell, your story about the student leader there not being able to name a single Trump supporter, despite his very huge turnout at the college, makes me wonder are people turning out for the show, for the performance, but not necessarily planning to vote for him. Is that your sense?

  • 10:45:05

    HAGLEYeah. And I've heard other reporters mention that too when they've talked to students is that they're there because, well, he's a famous person and it's something -- people will turn out for other candidates that they don't necessarily support in these events because that's sort of what Iowans do. But in some cases, it's often because the person is famous, it's a big event, something like that. Hillary Clinton was here with Demi Lovato and so a number of people went there to see Demi Lovato.

  • 10:45:27

    LAKSHMANANA pop star.

  • 10:45:28

    HAGLEOr Jamie Lee Curtis, or whoever it happens to be. And so it's not necessarily you support that candidate rather than you're there for the entertainment value.

  • 10:45:36


  • 10:45:36

    COHNThere was a Monmouth University Poll yesterday that really illustrated the importance of turnout to Donald Trump's chances. It showed Donald Trump up seven overall, but that poll supposed a turnout of 170,000 voters. Which would be 50,000 voters more than in 2012. And when they re-ran that poll with 130,000 voters turning out, Donald Trump's lead evaporated and it was a dead heat with Ted Cruz.

  • 10:45:58

    LAKSHMANANThat is really interesting. So, as we were saying, it really matters more for certain candidates that turn out be high. Okay, let's take a call from Rabbi Ariel in Lovington, Virginia. Go ahead. You're on the air.

  • 10:46:12

    RABBI ARIELOh, thank you, both men and women. It's very interesting. I have a comment and a question. I'm a Rabbi. I'm a clergy and a lot of my constituents, there's a third aspect to this. I'm a baby boomer. And we were taught never to discuss who we were going to vote for, who we were registered, whether we were Republican or Democrats growing up. That's number one. Number two, I don't understand why Iowa, and I understand that it's legislatively legal. Iowans, to me, I've never been there, however, to me, it's a very low populated state.

  • 10:46:50

    RABBI ARIELPerhaps your neighbor might be 10 miles from the next neighbor. Why do they pick Iowa? Thirdly, as an ex-New Yorker living in Virginia now because of 9/11, our entertainer from New York is a laughing stock in New York. And he's not -- we need a statesperson in the government.

  • 10:47:16

    LAKSHMANANOkay. All right, well, thank you very much for your call. Let's go to Tim, since he's there in New Hampshire. And you tell us, what is your reaction to the Rabbi saying that in Iowa, they, you know, it's sparsely populated, not so diverse, not like other parts of the country. What's your reaction Tim?

  • 10:47:37

    HAGLEIt's not that sparsely populated. There -- it's, you know, again, it's a small state. I can't recall exactly what the rank is, but there are about three million people here in Iowa. And as I was saying before, we actually do have cities where people live pretty close to each other. I think my neighbor is about 100 feet away from me where I live in Iowa City. Okay, in the farm areas, yeah. You're going to be a little bit further apart, but it's not 10 miles. I don't know particularly any place here in Iowa that your nearest neighbor is going to be that far apart. So, it's -- yes, it's rural in many parts.

  • 10:48:10

    HAGLEAnd the cities are not as big, clearly, not as big as New York or D.C area or where have you. But it's not that bad in that sense. As far as Donald Trump is concerned, well, there are a lot of people in the Republican Party that just aren't sure what to make of Donald Trump and so the fact that some people don't like him, particularly in New York, is not overly surprising.

  • 10:48:29

    LAKSHMANANNate Cohn.

  • 10:48:31

    COHNYou know, Iowa has its virtues, but one area where it really does distort the process is by being overwhelmingly white. And Hillary Clinton gets the -- does best among non-white voters. She is beating Bernie Sanders by a wide margin among black voters in particular. And the only reason that state is competitive is because black voters are so profoundly underrepresented in that state.

  • 10:48:53

    LAKSHMANANOkay. Elaine, you wanted to jump in.

  • 10:48:55

    KAMARCKYeah. And that's why, for Hillary the firewall is South Carolina.

  • 10:49:00

    LAKSHMANANExplain what that means. What do you mean by that?

  • 10:49:01

    KAMARCKBecause -- okay. So years ago, Lee Atwater, working for Ronald Reagan, created the early South Carolina primary in order to protect Reagan against early losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. And of course, one of the great ironies is that this time around, the South Carolina firewall might in fact protect Hillary Clinton against losses or lower expectations wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. So, and that's a heavily black population.

  • 10:49:31

    LAKSHMANANVery interesting. Andy, did you want to jump in there?

  • 10:49:34

    SMITHSure. You know, New Hampshire and Iowa don't have any real right to have the first primary. We kind of got them both out of an historical accident, but it's -- I beg the case that it's difficult to say that another state could do a better job. Or a different job than New Hampshire and Iowa would do. So, you know, the whole argument about it not being representative, frankly, you have to plead guilty. We're not representative of the rest of the country. But it does make a difference.

  • 10:49:59

    SMITHAnd I think the one thing that's unique for New Hampshire is that we do have such high turnout. That's not necessarily because we have incredibly engaged and informed voters. It's just because it's a cultural thing to do in New Hampshire, to come out and vote in the primary. And we do get that high turnout, which is broader than what we see in other parts of the country. It's not just activists.

  • 10:50:20

    LAKSHMANANAll right, let's take another call from Casey in Pensacola, Florida. Casey, you're on the line.

  • 10:50:25

    CASEYYes, ma'am, I just wanted to make a comment that to the rest of us, I'm a Florida voter, and for the rest of us, it seems like Iowa is kind of a symbol of corruption in that it's about supporting corn subsidies and not really about this Democratic process that we all kind of focus on. And I just wanted to, look, I'm also -- I went to a Trump rally here in Pensacola recently, and it was -- I'm one of those people who went really for the spectacle, would never vote for the man. I'm a Rubio supporter and I'm hoping that somebody kind of takes this lunacy out of the race.

  • 10:50:56

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Thank you for your call, Casey. So Tim, your poor embattled state coming under more criticism there. I don't know, you know, if you want to respond to what he said about corn subsidies. But he makes a separate point as well about being there for the show for Trump and not actually intending to vote for him. Although I think that in polls, that's different. When you're polling people and asking them who are they going to actually vote for, that's not accounting for just people showing up at rallies. So there is something to Donald Trump having very high support in the polls. Tim.

  • 10:51:27

    HAGLEYeah, two quick things on both points. As far as the Trump stuff goes, yeah, he's, Trump is polling well here in Iowa. The -- again, as was indicated earlier in this show, I don't trust a lot of the polls. There may be one on Saturday from somebody who actually knows how to poll in Iowa for the caucuses that I might take a little more seriously. But I -- like was indicated, I'm just gonna wait until Monday night at this point. So I'm not really sure that the polling you see for Trump to the extent that he's still ahead of Cruz here in Iowa is actually going to be accurate.

  • 10:51:54

    HAGLEMainly because of the turnout. So we'll see. As far as the point about ethanol and so forth, yeah, it is an issue. And as in all subsidies, and some people don't like them, some don't. And certainly it's not an indication of corruption, however.

  • 10:52:05

    LAKSHMANANAll right. I'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. So Elaine, Tim just brought up the point again about turnout. So let's just wrap it up once and for all. Tell us why, historically, does turnout tend to be so low in primaries? Or is this election year going to be different?

  • 10:52:20

    KAMARCKAll signs point to the fact that this election year could be different. Mostly because it looks like there could be long and evenly contested contests in both parties. And that will increase turnout. Usually, you don't get high turnout in primaries because the things that differentiate the candidates are not as stark as the things that differentiate the candidates in the general election. So frankly, you know, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, yeah, there are some differences between them, but they're more subtle.

  • 10:52:50

    KAMARCKAnd so people aren't as motivated. You know, for all of the bad mouthing that Americans like to do about their political parties, the vast majority of Americans, even if they call themselves independents, actually behave as Democrats or Republicans. The parties are the great symbols and people feel that they're part of a big team when they're a Democrat or a Republican. So the general election is a big and intense activity and it's always bigger than primaries.

  • 10:53:17

    LAKSHMANANAnd yet, you expect the turnout in Iowa to be very high and New Hampshire, you were saying you expect it to be astronomical.

  • 10:53:22

    KAMARCKYeah, I think New Hampshire will be astronomical. I think Iowa could be very high, although my friend Nate here, point about registration being lower than it has been in previous years does make me wonder if maybe there's a lot of hype going on in Iowa.

  • 10:53:38

    LAKSHMANANInteresting. Well Nate, to that, there was a story in yesterday's Washington Post online that reported twice as many Iowans saying that Ted Cruz's campaign had actually contacted them compared with Trump's campaign. Is this significant?

  • 10:53:50

    COHNIt is potentially significant. There's very strong evidence that making voter contact like that can affect turnout. Now, I don't think we should overstate it. I don't think it's going to move the polls by 10 points or something, but can a strong field operation move the needle by a couple of points, particularly in a low turnout race? Absolutely. And the polls show a race that's that close. And Donald Trump's field effort, as was noted earlier, is not thought to be particularly good. So you could have two very important effects happening at once.

  • 10:54:15

    COHNA weak Trump operation that's failing to turn out regular voters and a strong Cruz operation turning out regular voters. And you can imagine that coming together to pose a real problem for pollsters.

  • 10:54:25

    LAKSHMANANAll right, we have an email from Michael who says, Secretary Clinton's control of super delegates seems to make the will of the Iowan and New Hampshire primary voters mute. Why even vote in a Democratic primary? Elaine, what is he saying?

  • 10:54:40

    KAMARCKYeah, I think that's a misconception. The super delegates are a fraction of the overall delegates to the political convention. I'm sure if you asked either Hillary (unintelligible) would they rather win Iowa and New Hampshire or have super delegates, they would both say they would rather win Iowa and New Hampshire because those wins create momentum for winning the delegates all the way down the line. Now, in a 50/50 situation where both candidates came into the convention essentially tied, yes the super delegates would make a difference.

  • 10:55:15

    KAMARCKBut historically, the super delegates have tended to go with the winner of the primaries. They haven't reversed ever the winner of the primaries.

  • 10:55:22

    LAKSHMANANAll right, with the short time we have left, Andy, I want to go to you and ask how often the people who win in New Hampshire and Iowa actually go on to become the nominee or is there sort of a frontrunner fallacy in all of this?

  • 10:55:36

    SMITHNo, I don't think there's a frontrunner fallacy. In fact, I think the idea that New Hampshire and Iowa can pluck somebody who's relatively unknown and push them to the White House rests exclusively with Jimmy Carter's campaign in 1976. I don't believe a single candidate has won the White House, with the exception of Bill Clinton, without winning either New Hampshire or Iowa. Clinton came in second in New Hampshire. But nobody, for example, has won their nomination without coming in first or second in New Hampshire.

  • 10:56:07

    SMITHSo, they are very, very important. I think that the statistical modeling shows that overall New Hampshire is more important than Iowa, but they are both very important.

  • 10:56:15

    LAKSHMANANLast thoughts, Tim. You are there on the race where it's all going to be happening four days from now on the ground. And I just want to point out we have one listener, Bell, from Sarasota, Florida, who's Hispanic, who says Hispanics in Iowa are being disenfranchised. So, quickly to that and what do you think is going to happen in Iowa?

  • 10:56:34

    HAGLEWell, I don't think any Hispanics are being disenfranchised. Anybody that can register to vote on caucus night, you just have to show up. That's the only criteria. Of course, be a US citizen. You know, it's going to be exciting. It's very interesting here, a lot of people are here, a lot of candidates are here. And so this is that big push to try to get those last people to, again, turn out. And then we just have to wait to see what happens on Monday night.

  • 10:56:56

    LAKSHMANANAll right, well, we will all be watching. We will all be waiting. Thank you all for joining us. That's Timothy Hagle, Professor of Political Science at University of Iowa. Also joining us, Andy Smith from the University of New Hampshire, Elaine Kamarck, sorry, from the Brookings Institution. And Nate Cohn from the New York Times. And thank you to all of you listeners for joining our conversation. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.

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