Throughout the 2010 election cycle, we often mentioned that campaigns are always decided by the turnout model, especially in mid-term voting. Since a lower number of people participate in non-presidential elections, and 2010 was no exception, the groups of voters coming to the polls then determines which party wins and loses.
The preliminary 2010 turnout patterns, remembering that ballot counting in some states is not quite finished, clearly points to the fact that Republicans were in fact way more energized to vote, as the pre-election polling continually predicted.
The landslide, particularly at the U.S. House and state legislative level, occurred because Republicans did very well in states that have either been trending toward their opposition in the last two elections, or are normally reliable Democratic performers. The fact that many of these states turned out fewer voters in 2010 than they did in 2006, despite population gains, provides us clear evidence.
Of the Democratic states where Republicans made strong inroads, we see the same turnout pattern occurring. The Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voter participation rates show unmistakable evidence that the Democratic voter base was demoralized. Since the results in these states, by and large, heavily favored the GOP and turnout was down from 2006, it is clear that the turnout dip was disproportionately felt on the Democratic side.
In Michigan, turnout was down a whopping 19.7% from 2006. This also translates into a 36.7% drop-off from 2008. With Republicans winning the Governorship, two US House seats, and both houses of the legislature, it is clear that the lower turnout was very likely exclusively within the Democratic voting sector.
Pennsylvania also was down, again indicating that Democrats simply were not voting at a normal level. The Keystone State saw turnout drop 2.7% from ’06, with a 35% drop-off rate from the presidential election. Here, the Republicans gained the Governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, five congressional seats, and the state House, while holding the state Senate. In Wisconsin — where the GOP won the Governorship, defeated a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator, gained two congressional seats and both houses of the legislature — turnout fell into a similar pattern as the aforementioned states, but not to the same degree. There, it dropped just 1% from 2006, and was off 28.5% from 2008.
Though a small state, South Dakota is also in this category. They elected a Republican Governor and defeated a popular Democratic at-large U.S. Representative. Total turnout was down 5.8% from ’06, but with only a 17% drop-off from the last presidential election.
Ohio, though not traditionally a Democratic state but which has performed as such in both 2006 and 2008, also fit the lower turnout pattern. There, the Republicans defeated an incumbent Governor, held an open U.S. Senate seat, gained five congressional districts, the state House and held the state Senate. 2010 turnout was off 6.1% from ’06 and 37% from the presidential election.
Another reason for the GOP landslide was that turnout experienced a boost in the more traditional Republican states. Arizona, which witnessed a strong Republican comeback when compared to 2006 and 2008 with wins at the gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, U.S. House (+2) and state legislative levels, saw a huge increase in turnout when compared with the last mid-term election of 2006. There, turnout rose a huge 24.8% over 2006, but the drop-off from 2008 was still significant at 33.3%. This shows a disproportionately low turnout in ’06, thus proving that demoralization among the Arizona Republican voter base of that year was severe.
Two states that didn’t fit the pattern were the more Republican state of Tennessee and the Democratic state of Illinois. Though GOP gains were major in TN, turnout actually dropped a huge 15.7% from 2006, and was off 39.6% when compared to the presidential race. In Illinois, Democratic in nature and a state that one would expect to fit the lower turnout pattern, saw voter participation increase 7.9% from 2006. Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat here, but did not convert the Governor’s office as was expected prior to the election. The GOP went on to gain three congressional districts.
More definitive answers will be determined when all of the 2010 voting numbers become final and official.