The Iowa Caucuses are exactly four weeks from today and many GOP strategists are predicting a turnout 10-15 percent higher than the record setting 121,000 votes cast in 2012.There are several major reasons that this might come to pass. Some of these are candidate driven and some are caused by other factors.
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and a cast of thousands. Cruz is working the evangelical community really hard and most people think there will be a significant increase in evangelicals voting. In 2012, they cast nearly 60% of the caucus votes despite being 25% of the population. This number is a little deceptive since few Democrats are found among evangelical churches, so one might guess that evangelicals compose something approaching half of all Republicans. Even so, their propensity to vote is higher than among other groups. Many think that Donald Trump will draw two types of voters to the caucuses. He will attract people who have never before voted in a caucus to come out and vote for him. And he'll attract others who rarely vote to come out to vote for someone else so they can vote against Trump. This latter assertion I find suspect, people talk about voting against someone much more frequently than they do. And, as there is no "not Trump" line on the ballot, they actually have to vote for someone. In the unlikely event that there are a measurable number of people who are driven to vote against Trump and will vote for that reason alone, the question becomes one of whether they are all inclined to vote for the same person? Or will their votes be scattered?
The last candidate related reason is that with the number of candidates in the race and working Iowa, that could be expected to attract more voters than a cage match between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. To me, this is plausible. There will be roughly a dozen candidates still in the race by the time Iowa votes and many of them don't poll well nationally but they have dedicated followers who will make a difference in a caucus environment where they can try to convince others to vote for their candidate.
Sheer freakin hatred of the status quo. With the collapse of Jeb Bush, many conservatives are beginning to think that this is a chance to take a whack at the GOP establishment. There is also a monumentally disliked president, who will be more disliked in Iowa than he already is by February 1 after he issues his imminent gun restricting executive orders. There is a Democrat front runner who is loathed more than the incumbent. All of this could motivate a lot of people who ordinarily would not attend a caucus to do so.
Social media. When Obama was last elected in 2012, social media was a different creature than it is today. Campaigns can reach prospective voters, and do so frequently, at a fraction of the cost of phone banks or direct mail or door-to-door canvassers.
Iowa should be an solid bellwether for the 2016 election. We'll get a chance to measure the intensity of interest in the candidates and their ability to get out the vote in a highly competitive and unusually important caucus.