If the major political parties had some trick up their sleeves to get more voters registered ahead of the Iowa caucus, it hasn’t happened yet.
With under a week left until people vote for the first time in 2016, the number of registered Democrats and Republicans has remained fairly static in the last six months. So the big crowds at rallies for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—where they boast of attracting new caucus goers in droves—hasn’t translated into big gains when it comes to registered support.
At least not yet.
According to statistics from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the number of registered Republicans has decreased from January 2015 until January 2016. The same can be said for Democrats. The number can typically fluctuate as registered members of either party do not participate in a given cycle and the actual number of participants who register on the actual caucus night will not be finally tallied until months later, after auditors extensively pour over the numbers.
What can be said about this cycle is that there is a surprisingly small change in the number of registered voters in the latter half of 2015. For instance, compared to the lead-up to 2008’s Iowa Caucus, where Barack Obama pulled off a surprise win against Hillary Clinton, the number of registered Democrats skyrocketed. In June 2007, there were 596,259 registered Democrats in the state, according to statistics from the Iowa Secretary of State. By the time that number was tallied in January 2008, it was 606,209. Looking at the same window for Democrats, this cycle, the number has gone from 584,737 to 584,111, essentially flatlining.
“It’s a little surprising,” University of Iowa political science professor Timothy Hagle told The Daily Beast. He said that sometimes the assumption among campaigns is “If you’re showing up at their events, you’re showing up to vote.”
“That’s not always the case,” Hagle added.
This could explain why Bernie Sanders is hedging his bets slightly even as he has drawn closer to, and in some cases, overtaken Clinton’s lead in the state.
Sanders told reporters in Iowa on Tuesday that he doesn’t anticipate the campaign being able to get the monstrous turnout Obama’s 2008 bid elicited.
“The turnout was so extraordinary, nobody expected it,” Sanders said. “Do I think in this campaign that we are going to match that? I would love to see us do that, I hope we can.”
“Frankly, I don’t think we can,” he added. “What Obama did in 2008 is extraordinary.”
This of course remains to be seen until caucus night but that doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. The Sanders campaign did not respond to a question about their analysis of registered voters.
Clinton’s camp, which has experience on their side, for whatever that’s worth, did not comment on the state of their outreach efforts. However, on Tuesday the campaign announced a Digital Commitment Cards initiative allowing “voters to build a personalized, digital card expressing their commitment to vote for Hillary Clinton in their state’s primary or caucus,” according to the press release. The information, accessible in a Commit to Caucus app, also gives prospective voters information on polling locations and the caucusing process.
On the Republican side, also a neck and neck race at this point between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, the spectre of doubt has been raised about the latter’s ability to win because of an ill-organized ground game.
Despite that, Trump has gained all the momentum in recent weeks leading to Cruz’s campaign trying to pivot to “underdog” status. While the big unknown for Trump is whether his rabid fan base will actually understand and participate in the caucus process—his website recently included an added link to Iowa caucus locations—Cruz’s camp continues to rely on its strong organizational structure as an indicator of likely victory.
“If Trump is truly attracting new voters as the establishment in Washington is now claiming, you would expect to see it in Iowa voter registration, but the number[s] are just not there,” Rick Tyler, Cruz’s communications director told The Daily Beast. “Perhaps reality is about to hit the reality star. We will see on Monday.”
Republicans overall have seen only a marginal increase in registered voters between June 2015 and January of this year, rising from 609,020 to 612,112. When asked if the campaign had taken into account this small rise when considering its own ground game, Tyler said that the religious base in the state would help Cruz pull out a win.
“Iowa evangelicals have a good turnout record for the caucuses and our support among them is strong,” he said.
The Secretary of State’s office will release the most newly updated figures on Thursday, which could indicate marginal last-minute shifts in the final days before the caucus. But the stasis in the numbers over the past year has been noticeable, according to communications director Kevin Hall.
“With 2008, the Democratic numbers reflected the excitement around Obama,” Hall told The Daily Beast. He added that in 2012, there was a measurable spike on the Republican side based on their caucus as well, something that hasn’t been seen this time around.
When considering these figures, Hall referenced the question that has been the elephant in the room for months: whether Trump’s rock-star level fan base will actually get him the victory on Monday.
“It remains to be seen,” he said. “I’m sure some of them will turn out.”
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
For Trump, and perhaps Sanders, a victory on Monday night will be hinged on bringing new people to the table who have never participated in the caucus before. Trump leads Cruz 38 to 25 among potential first-timers, according to a Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday.
Now the only question left is will these people actually show up.