Story highlights

GOP primary turnout is down 9% from 2008

Some experts say that doesn't mean anything

Others say the competitive field should be bringing more voters

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So far, turnout in the Republican primaries and caucuses has been down in a number of states from 2008.

Overall, so far, turnout is down by 9% compared with four years ago.

Does it mean anything? Some election experts say no.

“It’s hard to know what we’re seeing in the first bit of early primaries,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“Primaries are weird ducks,” Brown said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

Republican voters tend to show up less to vote in primaries than do Democrats. And primary election turnouts in the winter and spring are notoriously bad predictors of voter turnout in the general election in the fall.

Doug Usher, who heads research for the strategic communications firm Purple Strategies, says mundane things can deeply sway voter turnout: a voter having a dental appointment, for instance, or an out-of-town meeting.

In other words, things that don’t deeply reflect the minds of voters.

But Jamie Chandler, a political scientist at Hunter College, wonders.

It’s early in this election year, yes. These are pre-election contests, yes. Still, he finds the numbers a bit surprising.

“These numbers would make sense if you had an incumbent Republican president who didn’t have a contested nomination,” Chandler said. “But for a competitive field, you would expect more people would be turning out.”

Chandler believes the fractures within the GOP – the division between establishment Republicans and social conservatives and the divisions among social conservatives – are clearly a part of this.

“There’s no clear message any one voter can grab onto in this particular election and use that enthusiasm to drive to the polls,” he said.

There are signs that the bruising tenor of the GOP primary battle is taking a toll with voters.

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Monday, more than half the Republicans and six in 10 independent voters described the GOP nominating process in negative terms.

Republicans used comments like these: “Unenthusiastic,” “discouraged,” “lesser of two evils,” “painful,” “disappointed,” “poor choices,” “concerned,” “underwhelmed,” “uninspiring” and “depressed.”

Kevin Brock, an operations technician for a gas company in Virginia, said he thinks some voters may not vote because they’re worn down by the partisan acrimony in Washington and the negativity of the campaigns.

He said it’s as if the politicians are living in a different universe than regular working people.

People “hear the promises, and that hurts. So people step away from (politics). You have people working two jobs – you have families where both the husband and the wife have to work” to make ends meet.

All the bickering and the negativity, he said, “does give people a bad taste.”

Chris Teale, an electrical contractor from Georgia, said he’s not voting in the primary election.

Part of that is his work schedule.

But deeper than that, Teale said he is feeling fatalistic about the election. He said one reason for that is because he favors Ron Paul.

“It’s frustrating,” Teale said. “The guy I think would be the best doesn’t stand a chance.”