First, I want to say that I have no problem with what I am about to talk about, and I am not alleging anything conspiratorial. In politics, affinity groups are affinity groups and great things. Barack Obama will do better among African-Americans than other candidates. Joe Lieberman got huge electoral and financial turnout from Jews. And the Wall Street Journal talks about Mitt Romney’s support from Mormons:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says it has more than 22,500 members in Iowa in 68 congregations. Joseph Cheney, the president of one of seven "stakes," or geographical groups within the church, estimates that as many as 7,000 Mormons are likely to show up on caucus night, and that nearly three-quarters of the Mormons in the state support Mr. Romney.
This suggests that about 50% of the adult Mormons in Iowa will caucus for Romney. (Assuming that 70% of the 22.5k are adults, not an unreasonable assumption) That 50% number is extraordinary. In a November analysis of polling, a CBS analyst said:
In 2004 about 124,000 people attended Iowa Democratic caucuses, out of a statewide population of about 2,200,000 adults. Even if that Democratic turnout is matched on the Republican side (which might not happen, given the greater enthusiasm of Democratic voters this year), that would still mean a turnout of only 11 percent of the adult population. The hard part for polling is finding them in advance of the caucuses
In other words, the very high end of typical turnout is around 10%. IA Mormons are looking at 50%. Assuming that, under normal circumstances, Mormons participate in higher numbers, perhaps 20% would normally participate in the caucus, (just a guess) that would mean 2,800 votes. Romney will be beating that by at least 2.5x.
That means that Romney will be increasing the universe of caucus-goers by approximately 4,200 people. Increasing the universe is the Holy Grail of winning the Iowa caucuses, but most people don’t succeed. (Exhibit A is always the famed Youth Vote)
The upshot is that you can safely add 5% or so to Romney’s numbers in any Iowa poll. Furthermore, if the Romney campaign is smart — and they are very, very smart — they are trying to drive these numbers even higher. What if turnout was 70% not 50%? Then that would be the equivalent of adding about 7% to his numbers.
The bottom line is that Mitt Romney will win a caucus that looks close. Romney starts with 5-7% of the vote. Any attempt to play down Romney’s chances in Iowa is just a game, the expectations game.
UPDATE: The LA Times has a similar report about California.