There is always a great deal of political talk about polling data and how survey answers might provide a window into what may happen in an upcoming election, but clearer patterns are determined from actual voting statistics rather than sampling universes.
Now that we are seeing some primary returns, we can begin to analyze the early turnout figures and use them to gauge how general election participation might formulate. This, in addition to now having at least a partial basis to judge the enthusiasm factor among voter groups.
Primaries have now been conducted in five states and from three we can draw conclusions because we see enough statewide data to analyze. In two states, Indiana and West Virginia, there were not enough competitive statewide contests or even a full slate of opposed congressional races from which to develop a legitimate statewide total turnout figure for both political parties.
In three others, Texas, Ohio, and Nebraska we are seeing some clear and definable patterns develop. North Carolina, because the state releases early voting participation statistics virtually in real time, also gives us a preliminary clue as to what we might expect in terms of Tar Heel State primary voter participation come next Tuesday, May 17th, and to a degree in the general election.
On March 1st, Texas kicked off the primary season and, for the second time in a midterm election, both parties saw more than one million voters cast ballots in the respective major party primaries. Comparing the 2022 turnout with the last midterm election, 2018, begins to tell us that a reverse trend to what we witnessed four years ago may be developing.
Seeing the Texas 2022 Republican primary participation number soar 26.6% higher than 2018’s turnout begins to build a case that this year could be as good for Republicans as the last midterm was for Democrats. In comparison, Texas Democratic primary turnout rose only 3.6% when matched with their 2018 participation figure.
When comparing 2018 to its previous midterm election, 2014, we see a drastically different pattern than what we detect today. In 2018, Texas Republicans increased their primary turnout by a respectable 15.3% mark when compared to ‘14, but Democrats soared to a new record, upping their midterm primary participation figure by a whopping 87.3% and breaking one million voters for the first time.
Nebraska is the only other early primary state with salient comparison historical data. Looking at the Democratic numbers from 2014 to 2018, we see a turnout increase of 38.4% from their participation figure in the former year to the latter. Conversely, Republicans dropped in turnout when contrasting their 2014 and 2018 participation numbers. In 2018, Republican primary turnout declined 23.7% when compared with the 2014 numbers. This was one piece of information that suggested the 2018 general election would be a down year for Republicans. This year, Nebraska Republican primary turnout soared an approximate 53% over the commensurate 2018 figure. The Democratic figure is only in the plus 6 percent range.
Though Ohio did not have enough contested statewide primary races in 2014 to draw meaningful comparison conclusions like we did in Texas and Nebraska, their current 2022 figures are certainly worth noting. Comparing 2018 to 2022, we see a 28.0% increase in Republican turnout, while a downturn of 26.0% occurred on the Democratic side. This is at least a preliminary indication of a strong Ohio Republican general election coming this November, but it is important to note that Democrats had only one contested primary race on the ballot, the gubernatorial contest.
The North Carolina early voting numbers also signal that the GOP could have a good year in the Tar Heel State. According to the John Locke Foundation Vote Tracker system, the Democratic edge in early voting returned ballots is only 50.0 - 49.6%. This figure constitutes a 15 point swing toward the Republicans when compared to the 2018 total.
Therefore, contrasting this current to-date even percentage with the previous early voting midterm data indicates a major swing when finding that over 58% of the 2018 early ballots were cast in the Democratic primary. In 2020, as another example, the total early votes cast showed 68% choosing the Democratic primary.
The big difference in North Carolina is not so much the Republicans turning out in substantially greater numbers, but rather unaffiliated voters choosing a Republican ballot as opposed to a Democratic voting card. The 2022 numbers yield that 63.1% of the unaffiliated early voters are casting Republican primary ballot. Obviously, the fact that the most contested primary races are on the Republican side certainly contributes to this strong swing number, but such is a significant trend, nonetheless.
This current pattern compared with the historical early primary state turnout data suggests Republicans clearly have the enthusiasm advantage and could be on the threshold of seeing a strong 2022 election result. Obviously, several of the aforementioned states not having contested Democratic nomination races influences all of these numbers, but the figures are still significant and a leading indicator pointing to the GOP rebounding with a big year at the 2022 ballot box come November.
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