The Romney-Santorum battle rivals the Stassen-MacArthur-Dewey contest in 1948 for the most competitive cycle in the primary’s 100-year history; voter turnout soars more than 90 percent from 2008

mittromney12.jpgBelieve it or not, Wisconsin lived up to the hype.

It may not have been apparent from the broadcast media coverage – where the first calls of Mitt Romney’s victory in Wisconsin came well inside of an hour – but the Badger State GOP presidential primary ended up not simply being the most competitive in the 100-year history of the contest, but also home to the second biggest surge in Republican turnout across the nation this cycle compared to four years ago.

Much like the previous primaries in the Midwestern battleground states of Michigan and Ohio, Mitt Romney edged Rick Santorum once again, this time by 7.2 points, 44.1 percent to 36.9 percent.

The 2012 primary was the state’s 26th such Republican contest dating back to its origins in 1912 and is one of only four in history to be decided by less than 10 points as well as one of four in which the winner carried the state with a plurality of the vote:

· In 1948, former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen defeated Douglas MacArthur by a 5.4-point margin in the Badger State, 39.4 percent to 34.0 percent. Eventual GOP nominee Thomas Dewey was third with 25.2 percent.

· Four years later, in 1952, Ohio U.S. Senator Robert Taft was victorious over California Governor Earl Warren by 6.8 points by a 40.6 percent to 33.8 percent margin. Stassen came in third in a five-candidate field with 21.8 percent.

· In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated George H.W. Bush by 9.8 points with 40.2 percent of the vote to 30.4 percent for his soon to be vice-presidential running mate. Illinois congressman John Anderson came in third with 27.4 percent.

However, unlike the 1948, 1952, and 1980 primaries – which were three-way races with all three candidates receiving at least 20 percent of the vote – the 2012 contest was a two-way battle between Romney and Santorum, making the margin particularly competitive.

Ron Paul finished a distant third with 11.2 percent while Newt Gingrich ended up in fourth place at 5.9 percent.

With plenty of ads and campaign stops from the major players, the highly anticipated Wisconsin primary boosted turnout significantly in the state compared to four years ago.

(The Badger State held its primary at approximately the same time on the primary calendar relative to other states in 2008 when it was the 36th contest, compared to #30 in 2012).

Wisconsin Republican primary voter turnout surged more than 91 percent in 2012 from 410,607 voters in 2008 to over 785,000 on Tuesday.

That marks the second largest cycle-to-cycle increase in Republican primary or caucus voting across the 31 states that have held contests so far this cycle.

While Mississippi technically recorded a bigger increase in turnout from 2008 at +99.4 percent, the Magnolia State was the 42nd state to vote that cycle, and did so only after all major challengers to John McCain had suspended their campaigns. The state was the 25th to vote this year.

Other states recording significant turnout increases in 2012 primaries and caucuses are Kansas at +52.8 percent, Vermont at +52.7 percent (though voting much earlier than in 2008), and South Carolina at +35.5 percent.

(There are no comparable cycle-to-cycle numbers available for Hawaii and Wyoming (which did not release raw caucus vote totals in 2008), Idaho (which switched from a primary to a caucus), and Washington (which hosted both a caucus and primary in 2008)).

In terms of the raw number of votes, the 2012 GOP primary was the second largest on record in Wisconsin behind only 1980 when the three-way battle between Reagan, Bush, and Anderson brought 907,853 individuals out to vote that April.

Tuesday’s huge turnout in Wisconsin is contrasted by Maryland, which saw a decrease from 2008 of more than 82,000 voters (-25.8 percent).

Wisconsin Republican Presidential Primary Winners and Margin of Victory, 1912-2012

Year
Winner
%
2nd
%
MoV
2012
Mitt Romney
44.1
Rick Santorum
36.9
7.2
2008
John McCain
54.7
Mike Huckabee
36.9
17.8
2004
George W. Bush
99.1
(Unopposed)
0.0
99.1
2000
George W. Bush
69.2
John McCain
18.1
51.1
1996
Bob Dole
52.3
Pat Buchanan
33.8
18.5
1992
George H.W. Bush
75.6
Pat Buchanan
16.3
59.3
1988
George H.W. Bush
82.2
Bob Dole
7.9
74.3
1984
Ronald Reagan
95.2
(Unopposed)
0.0
95.2
1980
Ronald Reagan
40.2
George H.W. Bush
30.4
9.8
1976
Gerald Ford
55.2
Ronald Reagan
44.3
10.9
1972
Richard Nixon
96.9
Pete McCloskey
1.3
95.6
1968
Richard Nixon
79.7
Ronald Reagan
10.4
69.3
1964
John Byrnes
100.0
(Unopposed)
0.0
100.0
1960
Richard Nixon
100.0
(Unopposed)
0.0
100.0
1956
Dwight Eisenhower
95.9
John Chapple
4.1
91.8
1952
Robert Taft
40.6
Earl Warren
33.8
6.8
1948
Harold Stassen
39.4
Douglas MacArthur
34.0
5.4
1944
Douglas MacArthur
74.3
Thomas Dewey
15.3
59.0
1940
Thomas Dewey
72.6
Arthur Vanderberg
27.1
45.5
1936
William Borah
98.2
Alf Landon
1.8
96.4
1932
George Norris
94.2
Herbert Hoover
4.4
89.8
1928
George Norris
87.1
Herbert Hoover
9.5
77.6
1924
Robert La Follette
62.5
Calvin Coolidge
35.8
26.7
1920
Robert La Follette
52.8
Leonard Wood
15.0
37.8
1916
Robert La Follette
98.8
(Unopposed)
0.0
98.8
1912
Robert La Follette
73.2
William H. Taft
26.1
47.1
 
Average
74.3
17.1
57.2

Data from Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and Wisconsin Blue Book. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. Badger Bill on April 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Forgive me, but the high turnout may have been partially due to all of the local elections and school bond referendums on the ballot. This was our regular Spring Election in addition to the Presidential Primary.