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How Does Turnout Affect The Wisconsin Results?

Amid all this interest in Wisconsin weather, along with the absence of anything resembling news there yet, I figured it might be worth riffing on a theme our commenters have weighed in on from time to time: Turnout, and who it helps. My basic thought is that if you plotted HIllary's performance as a function of turnout (and I'm not going to do it, but it wouldn't shock me if someone like Poblano did), you'd get a nice inverted parabola (i.e., a kind of gradual-sloping U). Which is to say, Hillary would do relatively badly when turnout is low and when it's high, but would do pretty well when turnout is in some intermediate range.

The logic is that Obama seems to have the superior organization and the more intense following, so his base is probably showing up when overall turnout is low, while Hillary's is more likely to stay home. When turnout is moderate, both candidates are probably getting their people to the polls. And when overall turnout is astronomical, both candidates are turning out their bases, but Obama benefits disporportionately from people new to the process.

What does that mean for Wisconsin? Well, turnout in 2004 was about 815,000, which was high-ish if I recall, since there was still something of a race between Kerry and Edwards. (Kerry only won by six points--40-34.) Turnout in 2000 was about 350,000, which was pretty low, since Gore had more or less locked up the nomination by that point. (He won almost 90 percent of the primary vote in Wisconsin.)

So, without knowing much more than that, I'd guess that turnout between 350,000 and 500,000 favors Obama, beween 500,000 and 750,000 is reasonably good for Clinton, and above 750,000 starts to favor Obama again. (Obviously, either Obama or Hillary could theoretically win at any level; they would just be stronger at some levels relative to others.)

This excellent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog repeatedly uses words like "steady" to describe turnout so far, so I'm guessing we're looking at one of the latter two scenarios. But, rest assured, there will be a full reckoning for my theory once the results are in.

--Noam Scheiber