For all the hype and hoopla over the Iowa caucuses, the typical turnout is a bit of a downer.
Over the last four GOP presidential caucuses, turnout has ranged from about 14 percent to 22 percent of registered Republicans. About 20 percent took part in the GOP's 2008 caucuses.
This year, as always, no one knows how many will attend. Estimates range from 13 percent to 23 percent of the state's 613,000 registered Republicans.
Low turnout and the time it takes to vote in caucuses typically benefit the candidates with the most empassioned supporters, such as Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whose poll numbers show his supporters back him more intensely than do the voters behind former Massachusetts governor and front-runner Mitt Romney.
That enthusiasm, along with the weather, often determine how many voters show up.
Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University who has been observing the caucuses for decades, predicts a higher turnout than in 2008, when Democrats appeared to soak up much of the energy in Iowa.
That year, about 220,000 Democrats participated in a caucus won by now-President Barack Obama, while 119,000 Republicans showed up to help crown former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"My expectation would be that turnout should be higher than last time, given Republican enthusiasm and success in 2010," Goldford said.
Tim Albrecht, a political operative who has worked in past caucuses and now is a top aide to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, is predicting "record turnout."
Albrecht said the fact that millions of people tuned in to watch this year's Republican debates is one reason he thinks upward of 140,000 people could participate.
"If someone is willing to sit for a two-hour debate ... they're going to spend a half-hour at the caucuses," Albrecht said.
So far, the weather appears to be on the Republicans' side. Neither snow nor bitter cold is in the forecast.
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