Inconsistent Turnout/Voting Patterns

As more and more election data makes its way into the public domain, the less sense some key voting patterns seem to be making.

Last week we reported on the turnout patterns for all 50 states and made the observation that voter participation dropped in 35 states when comparing the 2014 mid-term election to the 2010 mid-term. At the time, 2010 was considered to have yielded a low voter model, even in a mid-term election context.

The main conclusion being drawn from the aggregate data is that we may be returning to a similar electoral pattern that we saw in the pre-Reagan era, where Republicans did well in low turnout elections and Democrats excelled when voter participation was higher. This pattern has clearly taken hold since 2006. But, we find more to the 2014 turnout model when looking beyond a cursory overview.


As we know, the Senate races dominated the political landscape in this past election and saw Republicans gain nine seats to create a new 54R-46D majority (counting the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats). One would figure that, when overlaying the aforementioned observation, the GOP victories came because turnout dropped lower than even four years ago. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

We can legitimately consider 15 of the 36 senatorial campaigns as being highly competitive going into the cycle’s final weekend. Of these 15 political battles, the Republican candidate ultimately won 12 times. Yet, in 10 of those dozen GOP victories overall voter turnout was actually higher in 2014 than it was in a commensurate 2010 Senate race held within the same state. Only in Iowa and West Virginia did a state yield a GOP win in a situation with decreased turnout in comparison to 2010. Hawkeye State Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst defeated Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) 52-44 percent, while Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) easily topped Mountaineer State Democratic nominee Natalie Tennant, 62-34 percent.


But the Senate is not the only body where national turnout patterns are at odds with individual race results. In the House, we saw 34 races where overall turnout registered less than 100,000 voters. In fact, the lowest participation level for any district came in Texas’ 29th CD (Houston) where Rep. Gene Green (D) was re-elected with only 46,136 total votes being cast.

In comparison, the 2nd District of Colorado (Rep. Jared Polis-D) saw the highest individual turnout nationally at 345,945 participants.

Actually, the Montana at-large seat produced 367,963 voters, but the statewide district is the nation’s most populous CD with 1.015 million people, yet the national reapportionment formula only created one district. Therefore, it is not a valid comparison since the Montana district is so much larger than the average congressional district population, which is typically just over 700,000 people.

In addition to these two districts, four others exceeded 300,000 total voters in 2014: WI-5 (Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner-R), WI-2 (Rep. Mark Pocan-D), ME-1 (Rep. Chellie Pingree-D), and OR-4 (Rep. Peter DeFazio-D).

Of the 34 low-turnout districts, 14 are located in California, nine in Texas, and eight in New York – AZ-7 (Rep-Elect Ruben Gallego-D), NV-1 (Rep. Dina Titus-D), and NJ-8 (Rep. Albio Sires-D) are the only other seats that failed to reach the 100,000 figure in total turnout.

The percentage breakdown for House victories is also now available. In 2014, 20 members ran unopposed; 119 either reached or exceeded 70 percent of the vote; 173 reached or exceeded 60 percent; 116, 58 from each party, landed in the 50s; and seven members, four Democrats and three Republicans, were elected with a plurality of the vote, thus failing to garner majority support.

The lowest winning percentage in the nation was Rep-Elect Bruce Poliquin (R-ME-2) defeating Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain, 45-40 percent. The closest race in the country is still undecided in Arizona, where the 2nd District recount is now underway. The final total showed challenger Martha McSally (R) leading Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ-2) by just 161 votes.

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