The only polls of the Minnesota caucuses that have ever been done have been by Public Policy Polling. Their most recent poll, released yesterday, has Rick Santorum in the lead with 29% to Mitt Romney’s 27, Newt Gingrich’s 22 and Ron Paul’s 19. Even though Ron Paul is in 4th, he is still within 10 points of the lead and given how inaccurate polling can be when we are talking about a single poll of a low turnout caucus like Minnesota that only surveys 410 voters, that’s pretty close. More importantly than anything, this poll shows that the vote is split fairly evenly between all 4 candidates and thus the winning plurality is going to be the smallest possible.
Getting away from the vote percentages and just discussing nominal vote numbers, Minnesota has a population of about 5 and a quarter million people. By comparison Nevada is a bit over 2 and a half and Iowa is right about 3. Iowa had about 120 thousand votes cast in their caucus and Nevada had about 44 thousand votes cast in 2008 and somewhere a couple thousand short of that on Saturday. Minnesota had just 62 thousand votes cast there in 2008. If turnout is the same as 2008, it will constitute the lowest percentage of the state population voting that we have seen yet. That presents a huge opportunity for dedicated Ron Paul supporters to make a difference. (See Romney Ahead in Colorado, Close Race In Minnesota)
As I mentioned in my post on Nevada turnout, in every other state Ron Paul that he has contested, his nominal vote total has more than doubled. In Florida where he didn’t campaign at all, he still came very close to doubling the number of votes he received. In 2008, Ron Paul got 9,852 votes in Minnesota which was good enough for 15.7% of the vote. If he can manage to double that nominal vote total and have turnout only increase a bit that could be enough for about 30% of the vote and a first place. For example if Minnesota follows the same pattern from 2008 to 2012 as the Iowa caucuses, where turnout increased from slightly more than 118 thousand to more than 122 thousand and Ron Paul’s vote totals went from 11,817 to 26,036, Paul would end up with just under 34 percent of the vote. I have no idea what the odds are that a scenario like that happens, but the point is that it’s clearly within the realm of possibility.
Whatever the baseline expectations might be, I think that we should expect Santorum and Gingrich to underperform due to their lack of money and organization and Paul and perhaps Romney to overperform for the opposite reasons. The good news compared to Nevada is that Minnesota isn’t home to many Mormons who exit polls had voting for Romney at an almost 90% clip. If I was redoing my list of the states Ron Paul was most likely to win, I think I would definitely be adding Minnesota. Remember, this is the state that elected Jesse Ventura governor and played host to 2008′s Rally for the Republic.