Registration and Turnout Questions in the Battlegrounds

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Four and a half months before Election Day, there are a lot of uncertainties about 2012 presidential race. It remains a race in flux, especially with an unsteady economy driving the vote, but one thing seems relatively clear about the close contest that is emerging: Turnout is going to be crucial.

Before you can have the big turnout both sides desire, however, you have to have people register to vote. And with summer upon us, some interesting patterns are emerging in the voter registrations rolls of four important battleground states – Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

Comparing the registration numbers in those states now to where they were in November 2008 shows they are up in Colorado and Virginia, flat in Florida, and down in Ohio. By themselves those figures are somewhat surprising. Florida and Ohio arguably had the more important Republican nominating contests this spring, yet their registration numbers seem to indicate less interest.

But looking at those registration numbers using Patchwork Nation’s geographic/demographic breakdown of county types, there is a bigger story in them – and one that should give President Barack  Obama some concerns about the voter pool he might be facing in November. There look to be problems for the Democrats in some key places.

In most elections, there are two type of counties where Democratic candidates run up especially big margins, the big city Industrial Metropolis counties and the collegiate Campus and Careers counties – Mr. Obama won those counties nationally by 38 percentage points and 18 percentage points respectively. But lagging registration numbers may mean those margins will be hard to match (or even come close to) and that could present Mr. Obama with an uphill fight in some critical states.

For the rest of this week's Politics Counts column, please visit the Wall Street Journal's Web site.