by Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center
Special to the New York Times
So far, the 2008 primaries and caucuses have been anything but predictable — comebacks, fallbacks, not to mention surprised pollsters. But a closer look reveals some common themes that have emerged, despite a still-forming consensus about nominees.
First, this election matters to voters, particularly to Democrats and young people. Democrats turned out at higher rates in Iowa and New Hampshire than in 2000 and in greater numbers in South Carolina than in 2004. Young voters made up a larger share of the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic electorates than they have in previous primaries. However in South Carolina, the turnout by African-Americans overshadowed all else.
Republican turnout has lagged Democratic turnout, notably in New Hampshire. Compared with previous recent elections, the G.O.P. participation was higher in Iowa this year than in 2000, but markedly lower in Michigan and in South Carolina.
Independent voters have played a significant role in the early contests and have consistently favored Barack Obama…
Independents have also been big backers of John McCain, helping him secure his victories in Florida, New Hampshire and South Carolina.[Race and gender have been big factors among Democrats, but issues have not.]