Updated February 1, 2 p.m. ET
Underneath tonight’s big win for Mitt Romney in the Florida Republican primary, is a statistic that might suggest enthusiasm is flagging among GOP voters in this large and crucial swing state: turnout was actually down significantly from 2008.
In the 2008 Republican primary in Florida, in which John McCain beat Romney by a margin of 36%-31%, a total of nearly 1.95 million votes were cast.
But in tonight’s primary, turnout was actually much lower. At time of writing, with 98% of precincts reporting, the total turnout is only about 1.65 million — a drop-off of 15% in terms of the raw number of voters.
Romney did increase his own vote total, though. In 2008 he received about 605,000 votes. Tonight, it is up to about 765,000. (One can imagine him combining some of his old votes, with some of McCain’s in 2008, for his strong 46% plurality.)
Now, there is an obvious counter-argument to explain the drop in turnout: The 2008 primary had a decent amount of suspense. McCain was ahead in the final stretch of polls, but not by a landslide. By contrast, Romney’s huge double-digit lead in the polls might have taken some of the suspense out of it for voters this time around, and made it seem not worth as much effort to get to the polls for a winner-take-all contest.
However, we might also compare the state of the GOP in 2008 and now. Back then, they were in the minority in both houses of Congress, were saddled with a very unpopular lame-duck president, and had presidential candidates who often struggled at the task of standing by the party’s ideas and record while also differentiating themselves from the baggage.
This time, by contrast, the party has a huge majority in the House that it won on grassroots fervor, has a credible shot at the Senate, and has sought to forward an image of vigor and unity in their shared loathing of a Democratic president who has passed major pieces of legislation that they all despise.
Late Update: Some Republicans have argued to TPM that this not a strict apples-to-apples metric, the date of the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential primaries also featured a referendum on a state constitutional amendment to strengthen the state’s cap on property taxes, called “Save Our Homes.” The referendum was supported by state Republicans and received 64% of the vote, needing 60% to pass.
“Turnout actually exceeded most of our projections this year, so we were pleasantly surprised,” said Sally Bradshaw, a former chief of staff to Gov. Jeb Bush and a senior adviser to Romney’s 2008 campaign. “We expected 1.3 or 1.4 million, because we did not have the property tax cut on the ballot this go round.”