Oct 10, 2018

Wave watch: Inside the Democratic primary turnout surge

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Data: Ballotpedia; Chart: Chris Canipe and Neal Rothschild/Axios

Democratic voter turnout in this year's House primaries increased in each of the 19 competitive, comparable House districts compared to 2014, and doubled in more than two thirds of them. That's far better than Republican voter turnout, which increased in 14 of those districts but didn't double in any of them.

Why it matters: Poor turnout has been the scourge of Democrats' efforts to win congressional elections in the last decade. But this data suggests that a surge of anti-Trump enthusiasm could boost their turnout in November — and not just in already-blue areas, but in parts of the country that could deliver control of the House to the Democrats.

Methodology: This analysis focuses on 19 House races out of 68 races classified by Cook Political Report as Lean Republican, Tossup or Lean Democrat. These are the 19 races that had candidates from both parties on the ballot this year and in 2014.

  • Other analyses below include districts where one party or the other had candidates on the ballot in both years.

The other side: If Republican voters become more enthusiastic about the election because of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight — as GOP leaders predict they will — this pattern could look different on election day. This analysis is also limited to the House, and doesn't shed light on the Senate races.

Between the lines:

  • Republican enthusiasm is up, but not by as much as Democrats. GOP engagement has been more consistent from election to election.
  • Of the 28 competitive districts where Republicans were on the primary ballot in '14 and '18, 21 had primary turnout increases.
  • There were also 28 competitive districts where Democrats were on the ballot in both years, and there were turnout increases in 27 of them. The exception: NC-13, a Republican-held tossup seat.
  • The biggest spikes in primary turnout for Democrats:
    • IL-14: R-held, Lean R. 2014: 7,875 2018: 51,251
    • TX-07: R-held, Tossup. 2014: 6,589 2018: 33,275
    • NJ-11: R-held, Lean D. 2014: 9,149 2018: 45,629
    • CA-45: R-held, Tossup. 2014: 24,721 2018: 81,193
  • The biggest spikes in primary turnout for Republicans:
    • VA-10: R-held, Lean D. 2014: 13,609 2018: 46,598
    • NJ-11: R-held, Lean D. 2014: 23,525 2018: 41,003
    • WA-05: R-held, Lean R. 2014: 68,501 2018: 110,494

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