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2018 primary early voting, Day 7: Projecting final turnout

KUHF starts with the speculation.

Harris County Democrats are voting in record numbers ahead of next week’s primary. Total returns for the first six days of early voting put Democrats nearly even with Republicans.

As of Sunday night, Democrats’ combined in-person votes and mail ballots received totaled 34,555, an increase of nearly 200 percent over the 2014 congressional midterm election.

“They have an unprecedented number, the biggest they’ve ever had,” Jay Aiyer of Texas Southern University said on Houston Public Media’s Party Politics Podcast, “and it’s still counting. It’s important because about 60 to 65 percent of the total vote will come from these early votes.”

By comparison, Republican votes over the first six days totaled 35,036, up just 11 percent from the last midterm.

With all due respect, I think Jay is overestimating the share of the vote that will be cast early, and thus underestimating the amount that will be cast on Election Day. Here’s a look at past performance in Democratic primaries:


Year    Early    E-Day   Early%
===============================
2006   11,500   23,947    32.4%
2008  179,348  231,560    43.6%
2010   40,963   60,300    40.5%
2012   38,911   37,575    50.9%
2014   31,688   22,100    58.9%
2016   87,605  139,675    38.5%

There’s not much of a pattern here, but in no year has as much as 60% of the Democratic primary vote been cast early. My guess, when I put these numbers together, was that we’d be around fifty percent early (this includes mail ballots in all cases). I won’t be surprised if that’s an underestimate, but I don’t think it will be by that much. One reason for this is that it hasn’t been just the old reliables voting so far.

An analysis of the first four days of early voting in the March 6 primaries indicates that the fabled rebellion against the Republican social conservative leadership may not be materializing. On the Democratic side, it shows a surge of new voters—a fifth of the primary turnout is from people with little to no history of voting in a Democratic primary.

The new analysis of the early voting turnout comes from Derek Ryan, a Republican consultant. Ryan builds off of a Texas Secretary of State database of who voted in which elections. The database does not tell anyone how you voted, but it does reveal the names of who votes in party primaries and general elections. He then receives a daily report from the election administrators in eighteen of the top Texas counties to compare current voters to past voters with an eye toward spotting trends.

What Ryan found on the Republican side is a usual primary for a non-presidential election year. So far, more than 86 percent of the Republican primary votes have been cast by people who voted in past Republican primaries. Only about seven percent of the vote has come from people who do not vote in party primaries. Crossover voting from Democrats is almost nonexistent, with only a single percent of the GOP vote coming from 2016 Democratic primary voters.

Business and education groups have been urging members to vote in the Republican primary because of opposition to issues like bathroom bills or private school vouchers. These initial numbers indicate a weak rebellion. At the same time, social conservatives regularly make up less than 42 percent of the Republican primary vote. If enough of the Republican regulars combine with the new voters, some upsets are possible, although right now they look unlikely.

Over on the Democratic side, almost eighteen percent of the voters are people with no history of voting in a primary of either party; another three percent are people with no history of voting at all in primary or general elections; and 1.5 percent were Republican primary voters in 2016. Without polling the individual voters, Ryan told me there is no way to tell whether the surge is from motivated general election Democrats or from “purple” voters prompted to vote Democrat because of anger over the national Republican party politics.

I agree we can’t tell yet if the level of primary voting means anything for November. At this time, pending a change in the makeup of the Democratic primary electorate, I think we can say there’s still a decent reserve of regular voters who haven’t shown up yet but who almost certainly will. That to me suggests that the turnout on March 6 will be higher than one might think. I reserve the right to change my mind about this later in the week.

So what happened yesterday? Well, as of 11 PM, the daily vote report had not arrived in my mailbox. That happens when the hours change to 7 AM to 7 PM, so I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait. I may post an update later, but most likely I’ll just save this for tomorrow. Sorry.

UPDATE: Here at last are Monday’s numbers – apparently there were some technical difficulties. I’ll have full details tomorrow, but Dems outvoted Republicans in person and in returned mail ballots, and have overtaken the Rs for the lead in total votes. Boo yah!

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