Presidential Primary Turnout

All primary voting entities have now held their presidential primaries and caucuses, or simply awarded a delegate slate to a candidate who was unopposed, and some of the state figures are quite surprising.

Studying primary turnouts can be interesting because they can prove to be a precursor to a vote trend change in a general election. At the very least, the primary turnout figures can be used as part of the calculus in determining what might be the participation factor for the ensuing general election.

We certainly saw some interesting voting trends in the 2024 presidential primaries. Approximately, four million more people voted in Republican primaries than Democratic, meaning that about 55% of the people who participated in a nominating system this year cast their ballot on the GOP side.

At least in the early cycle, the Republicans were the party that had at least a somewhat competitive nomination campaign, though such was quickly dispelled once voters began casting their ballots. Therefore, this accounts for some of the early imbalance.

In six states, the governing party either awarded their delegate slate to the leading candidate – something that happens from time to time in both parties when they have the incumbent president – or the state, i.e., Florida and South Dakota, doesn’t report totals for unopposed candidates. Therefore, we have no basis for comparison between the two parties in these particular places. We do, however, see 44 states and the District of Columbia where both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates received recorded votes.

In the 44 states and DC, more Republicans voted in 32 entities as compared to just 13 for the Democrats. Considering the reported totals are actual votes, primary turnout may be the best indicator of voter enthusiasm. If so, then the Republicans commanded the decided edge during presidential primary season.

There were also quite a few surprises in primary turnout, that is, states where a particular party over-performed within the turnout model. In 2024, there were 13 states reporting curious figures, ones that should raise political observers’ eyebrows. Of course, there are many reasons for why individuals choose to vote as they do, but it is obviously better to be on the side that has more voters. Of the baker’s dozen with unusual participation figures, or considered key swing states in November, all but two, Pennsylvania and Utah, favored the Republicans.

The surprising states where more Republicans than Democrats voted are Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Virginia. More Republicans also voted in Hawaii, but in a caucus format. The Vermont Republican primary, which former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley won, clearly had many crossover voters coming into the Republican booth to vote against Donald Trump.

In the swing state category, more Republicans voted than Democrats in Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. As mentioned above, more Democrats voted in Pennsylvania.

The primary turnout figures could provide us clues to what may happen in the key Senate races, as well. So far, key nominations have been awarded through primary voting in Maryland, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia.

In two of the states, Maryland and Pennsylvania, more Democrats voted in the Senate race than Republicans. In Montana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia, the reverse is true.

The Maryland Senate primary featured one of the most expensive campaigns in American primary history. US Rep. David Trone (D-Potomac) spent over $62 million of his own money, only to lose to Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks by a rather substantial 53-43% margin.

Over 380,000 more people voted in the Maryland Democratic primary than Republican. This puts Republican nominee and former Governor Larry Hogan in a political hole to start the general election. His crossover appeal to Democrats and Independents will help him, but the early general election numbers are not nearly as favorable for Hogan as they were when he first began his Senate campaign.

In Pennsylvania, both Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) and businessman David McCormick (R) were unopposed in their respective primaries. Over 146,000 more people voted for Casey than McCormick, a bad preliminary sign for GOP general election prospects.

West Virginia is a virtual lock for Republicans without Sen. Joe Manchin running for the Democrats. GOP Senate turnout was just over 121,000 voters greater than Democrats.

In Texas, the Republican primary produced a whopping 1.27 million voter difference between those voting in the Republican primary versus the Democratic option. This is certainly a favorable trend for Sen. Ted Cruz (R). 

In two of the most competitive Senate states, Republicans swamped the Democratic turnout base in Ohio, but the GOP also held a competitive multi-candidate primary that drew a great deal of attention. Still, seeing that the vote difference between the two parties (over 569,000) is greater than the number of votes the unopposed incumbent received (Sen. Sherrod Brown-D; 535,000+ votes), is not a favorable predictor for one seeking re-election.

Finally, in Montana where Sen. Jon Tester (D) is on the ballot for a fourth term, the Republican vote totals were over 80,000 individuals higher than the Democratic totals. This number, in a small state, is very large and, like ex-Gov. Hogan in Maryland, Sen. Tester is forced to start from an enthusiasm deficit factor far behind that of his Republican opponent, former Navy SEAL and aerospace businessman Tim Sheehy.

In all, the primary turnout figures will probably prove themselves as a relatively minor calculating figure when peering ahead toward the general election. Though small, the trends they represent will still likely prove significant with regard to the final outcome in most cases.

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