Monday, May 14, 2012

California Primary Turn-out

General elections results have mirrored primary results in Washington state in the their two top 2 elections. I made the conclusion that California would be similar.

That may be wrong.

The vote
In the last three elections, 2006, 2008, and 2010, California Republican congressional primaries had higher turn-out than would be expected. If we take the Republican primary votes and the Democratic primary votes in competitive districts, we’d end up with a primary result of:

R - 57.6%
D – 42.1%
O – 0.3%

Yet when the same districts voted in the general election it was like this:

R – 51.8%
D – 45.4%
O – 2.8%

The 3rd party surge isn’t surprising. Independent voters rarely vote in primaries, especially if the primaries are closed for anyone outside the party. So the Republican vote goes down by 5.8%, while the Democratic vote goes up 3.3%. We should expect more independents to vote in this primary since their votes will count. That may change things, but it doesn’t change that the spread between Republicans and Democrats goes from 15.5% to 6.4%.

The California Secretary of State’s office keeps track of primary turn-out by party. Here it is for the last three elections:

D – 42.6%
R – 38.6%

That’s only a 4.0% difference. They don’t keep track of turn-out in November, but exit polls give us this:

D – 42.0%
R – 32.0%

While the numbers aren’t from the same source, the difference between party turn-out in June and November goes from D+4% to D+10. That’d explain Democrats better performance above.

I can’t pin on why this happened, as it happened in a good Democratic year and a good Republican year. It also happened when there were competitive statewide Republican races and when there weren’t any. I don’t have a why explanation, as it doesn’t happen throughout the country.

Will it happen again?
Since there are no situations that make it happen or not happen, there’s nothing to point to in 2012 that will let us know either way. Top Two is a different situation, one where we believe independents will show up in greater numbers. Democrats could show up for Top Two, but there’s nothing to tell us that the difference won’t be as close.

How will we know?
Since general election exit polls have mirrored registration in the past, we should consider that when the participation numbers are published. I don’t know when that’ll be. In the past any election where a Republican got 46%-54% was likely to competitive in November. If turn-out is similar, Republicans will only be competitive in districts where they get at least 50% of the two party vote.

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