Dana Milbank had an interesting column today about ordinary people not showing up much at the campaign events in New Hampshire, but there were droves of reporters following the candidates. His conclusion was that the voters are simply less engaged this time around.
From here I counted about 4000 more voters than in 2008, approximately a 1.7% increase. (The total participation is not very large, in a national context.) Last night on the News Hour they talked about how Democrats/Independent voters were participating in the Republican Primary this time around. Huntsman was doing well with these people. But I don't see any way to determine the magnitude of this effect, given the information we are provided. Maybe exit polling data will shed some light on this. Some of that is on the CNN site. There they report that Democrats were 4% of the Republican Primary this time around.
Ross Douthat also had an interesting blog post about the candidates competing for second place, imitating like strategies from 2008, which weren't successful. Of course that was Romney in second place four years ago, and today he is the frontrunner. But Douthat dismissed any of the others in the current field as potential front runners for years from now, if President Obama wins reelection. I wonder if any of them are competing for the Vice President slot. Would a Romney/Santorum ticket, for example, energize the base, or simply repel independent voters?
The weather has been remarkably mild. Huntsman seems to appear outside without a coat. Presumably, the impact of that would be to increase participation.
On can envision the primary process as hardening the eventual winner, better preparing him for the Presidential campaign. But the presence of Super PACs makes it look like there will be much venom and vitriol among the candidates, turning off many potential voters.
Huffington Post did report that Obama won on the Democrats side, but I couldn't find the vote totals. It would be interesting to looks at overall participation and compare that with 2008. I haven't seed that reported.