Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: A Little More Focus on the Low Turnouts, Please

Posted at 2:51 pm, February 9th, 2012
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

My local paper informed me Feb. 8 that Rick Santorum was the top vote-getter in Minnesota, capturing 45 per cent of the votes cast in the state’s Republican presidential caucuses. But 45 percent of what? Finding out basic information about the contest was a day-long task.

A Google search yielded nothing about the number of registered Republicans in Minnesota. The conscientious local reference librarian I consulted could not locate any information about the figure, so he telephoned the Minnesota secretary of state’s office. He was told the office does not register voters by party affiliation, but he learned there are 3,090,000 registered voters of all parties in Minnesota. The librarian also learned from the Gallup organization that 39.6 per cent of Minnesotans say they are Republicans. Doing the arithmetic produces some 1,236,000 registered Republicans in the state. The vote for Santorum among caucus-goers was just 21,932.

In other words, looked at in the most favorable light Santorum received a grand total of less than 2 percent of the votes of registered Republicans in Minnesota. But even that is a tad high, logic suggests, since some of his votes no doubt came from independents and, possibly, a smattering from Democrats, as Minnesota’s GOP caucuses were open to all registered voters.

I am not aware that any news organization focused on the relatively puny number of votes that gave Santorum his headline-grabbing victory in Minnesota. The story was pretty much the same in Colorado and Missouri, the other caucus contests also decided Feb. 7. Caucuses are notoriously poorly attended. (The GOP primaries haven’t been much of an attraction either, as Barry Sussman has written on Nieman Watchdog.)

It is no service to readers to report election votes by percentages, without more. The “more” should disclose what I was able to piece together about Santorum’s showing in Minnesota with the aid of a reference librarian.

The big story about the voting Feb. 7 is how few votes the GOP field attracted. But unless you did your own reporting, you might not know it.

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