By Jim Ellis
June 29, 2018 — In continuing the effort to monitor primary turnout as a potential indicator of how the general election may unfold and whether a Democratic wave is forming, today we examine the preliminary participation numbers from the June 26 primaries.
Previously, in the 26 states where primaries were held, it appears that a normal turnout pattern had developed. Generally, more Democrats were voting in the states that typically vote Democratic, while more Republicans participated in those places where Republican candidates win the greater number of offices. In the five pure primary (non-run-off) states that held primaries on Tuesday, such a pattern continued. Utah was not included in the following analysis because the state did not feature any political contest where both Democrats and Republicans held a primary vote.
Democrats decisively turned out more people in Maryland (the Senate Democratic primary attracted 560,477 votes while the Republicans only produced 169,047), as one would expect, since the Free State is one of the strongest Democratic entities in the country. Conversely, more Republicans than Democrats voted in the Oklahoma primary (452,194 to 395,038 in the gubernatorial race), and that ratio, too, was anticipated.
Colorado, generally considered a swing state but one moving toward the Democrats in most elections, again saw more Democrats participating in Tuesday’s election. In the open governor’s race, 627,839 Democrats voted in the gubernatorial primary as compared to 493,445 Republicans. Once more, these numbers are predictable and represent a rather normal voter turnout pattern.
While talk of a “blue wave” continues and polls continue to show that more Democrats are interested and enthused about the coming midterm elections in the fall, such is not apparent in actual voting behavior within the two largest and most prolific Democratic states. In California, as we previously reported, while more Democrats than Republicans voted in the statewide jungle primary, in the seven targeted congressional districts more people voted for Republican candidates in six of those seven.
Let’s look at Tuesday’s New York Democratic participation rate, another place where one would expect increased turnout if the national “blue wave” is actually beginning to form. Simply put, we didn’t see the wave. Turnout was very low. Remembering that New York now has two primaries, one for federal and another for state offices (and this certainly would have the effect of lowering turnout in each of the stand-alones), we see that only 317,258 people voted in the 13 congressional districts that hosted contested Democratic primaries. Therefore, of the 2,783,741 people who are registered Democrats in those districts, both those categorized as active and inactive, the math tells us that the average turnout rate on Tuesday among Democrats was just 11.4 percent.
To a great degree, this contributed to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens) in the Queens-Bronx 14th District. There, just 27,658 Democratic voters participated in the primary that turned Crowley out of office. This, from a total registration figure (both active and inactive) of 235,745 Democrats, meaning the turnout participation rate in the 14th was only 11.7 percent.
The low turnout figures become even more apparent when compared to another state — one that held its primary on May 15 and also saw 13 congressional districts with viable primaries. By contrast, Pennsylvania Democrats turned out 603,108 in their 13 congressional primaries, close to double that of New York.
Additionally, if a “blue wave” is developing to sweep Republican incumbents from their positions, one might expect Democratic turnout average to be higher in districts with Republican incumbents. In New York on Tuesday, this also did not happen. In Democratic primaries from districts with Democratic incumbents, the average turnout was 28,573 voters. In Democratic primaries in districts with Republican incumbents, the turnout averaged only 20,839 individuals.
Therefore, regarding the premise of a Democratic “blue wave” developing, based on actual voting turnout, generic ballot test polling numbers, enthusiasm question results, and presidential approval ratings, we again see the turnout performances — at least in the party’s two bedrock states of California and New York — not producing the type of participation numbers at a level one would expect to see if such a “blue wave” trend were actually developing.