The Turnout Precursor

By Jim Ellis — Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022

Retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc (R)

While the New Hampshire results are not completely final, retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc has been projected as the Republican primary winner and he now advances to face Sen. Maggie Hassan (D).

The senator’s campaign wasted no time in attacking Bolduc, hitting him with an abortion ad the day after the primary ended.

Gen. Bolduc’s margin of victory over state Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) will be in the neighborhood of 1,800 votes when all the counting is finally complete.

Turnout was robust. It appears the New Hampshire Republican primary will feature, when the counts become official, approximately 145,000 voters. This is an extraordinarily high figure, since it is only about 8,000 short of the number who participated in the 2020 first-in-the-nation New Hampshire presidential primary.

The Democratic side will have drawn only approximately 95,000 when all of the towns and counties finally report, though Sen. Hassan and state Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye) were largely unopposed in the Senate and governor’s race.

The presidential nomination election, which in many ways becomes an economic industry in New Hampshire because of the major campaign spending from so many national campaigns that is associated with winning the first vote in the nominating process, last drew 153,674 GOP voters. Typically, turnout for the presidential primaries are close to general election participation levels.

The 2nd Congressional District Republican race was just as close as the Senate campaign, but it now appears certain that former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns defeated Keene Mayor George Hansel by just under three percentage points or a little over 1,600 votes. He now advances to face five-term Rep. Annie Kuster (D-Hopkinton/Concord).

The 1st District was decided on Tuesday night, and former Trump White House aide Karoline Leavitt will officially challenge two-term Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) in one of the most politically volatile congressional districts in the country.

Though former President Trump did not endorse a candidate in the Senate race, his supporters had a big night on Tuesday and are largely credited with delivering the victories for Bolduc, Leavitt, and Burns. It remains to be seen how the national Republican committees respond, since there was clear consternation among the party leadership about the candidates and Bolduc, in particular.

Yesterday, however, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said his committee remains fully committed to New Hampshire as a key target race. The organization has over $9 million in media time already reserved for the Granite State’s general election.

Now that primary season is officially over, we can determine the final turnout numbers and how they compare to the previous midterm election participation rate.

Nationally, it is possible to directly compare the primary turnout numbers in 38 states. The Louisiana primary is still outstanding since the state runs its general election qualification process as a jungle primary concurrent with the national election day. This way, they can elect candidates with just one election. In the races where no one receives a majority, the top two finishers advance to a December runoff contest.

The other 11 states have insufficient turnout data, meaning in either 2018 or 2022 there are not comparable statewide elections. For example, five of the states run their state elections in the odd-numbered years, and others had a Senate bye either this year or four years earlier. Some, like Florida, do not report election figures for unopposed campaigns.

Therefore, in the 38 comparable states, Republicans saw their turnout numbers rise an unofficial 38.1 percent in 2022 from their 2018 base, while the Democrats dropped 20.7 percent. This is significant, because the actual vote numbers, as opposed to looking at polling sample data, is usually a better indicator for which party has more election enthusiasm. In lower turnout elections, this element is critical for victory.

During the 2018 election cycle, Democratic strategists often pointed to primary turnout as a precursor that their candidates were headed for a strong year in the general election. Considering that 4.6 million more people voted in Democratic primaries than Republican in that year, such an analysis proved correct and was an indicator that the party candidates were headed toward a wave election year. As we remember, the Democrats gained 41 seats in the House and converted the majority.

This year, however, we see the tables turn. In the 38 comparable states, it is the Republicans who have the turnout advantage, in fact, slightly better than what the 2018 Democrats recorded. The aggregate figure reveals that 4.8 million more Republicans have voted in the tested 2022 primaries than Democrats.

Is this a better precursor to the 2022 general election results than current polling data? We shall find out in about six weeks.

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