In another indicator that Republican enthusiasm will exceed Democrat fervor this November, Republican midterm election primary turnout was higher than Democrat primary turnout in 2014 for the second time since 1930. Republican turnout was 15,318,639 (54%) to 13,075,890 (46%) for Democrats in 45 state primaries where both parties had contested primaries. This analysis is based on the contest with the highest turnout in statewide elections for U.S. Senate, U.S. House or Governor.
When compared to voter registration, Republicans had a 9.5% turnout of total voter registration and¬† Democrats had 8.1% in 2014 primaries. Both parties, however, had low turnouts compared to recent midterm elections. Republican primary turnout dropped down from 11.4% of voter registration in 2010 and 10.5% in 2002. Only in 2006 when Republicans lost both the Senate and the House was Republican turnout lower at 8.5%.
Despite all the talk of Democrat party dominance in recent years, Democrat primary turnout in midterm elections has been on a steady decline since 2002 when it was 12.3% of voter registration. Even in 2006 it continued dropping to 10.4% and it continued downward to 9.6% of voter registration in 2010 and now 8.1% in 2014.
In raw numbers, Republican primary voter turnout was a record high in 2010 at 18,936,420 (54%) compared to a Democrat primary voter turnout of 15,887,383 (46%). This was when Republicans picked up a record 64 U.S. House seats. In 2006, when Republicans suffered in the November election, Republican primary turnout was at a record low of 12,571.895 (45%) with Democrat primary turnout at 15,450,904 (55%). But in 2002, a year where there was little change in seats in Congress in the November elections, Democrat primary turnout was a record high in recent midterm elections of 16,438,904 (54%) and the Republican primary turnout was 13,993,593 (46%).
According to voter turnout expert Curtis Gans, director of American University‚??s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, the average Republican vote for statewide offices (U.S. Senator and Governor) in the primaries held in 2010 exceeded the Democratic vote. Gans‚?? similar but much more extensive analysis to the one above reported that this was the first time this had happened in mid-term primaries since 1930.
In 2010 before the November election, Gans said that ‚??the average percentage of eligible citizens who voted in Democratic primaries was the lowest ever. The average percentage of citizens who voted in the GOP statewide primaries was the highest since 1970‚?¶ But what‚??s likely to prove telling is the lower participation of the Democrats, the first tangible demonstration of what polls have been showing‚?? a distinct lack of enthusiasm among the Democratic rank and file.‚?Ě He then correctly predicted the GOP victory that year by stating then that ‚??it seems highly likely that the Democrats will suffer major losses.‚?Ě
Gans also was a prophet on the continuing trend towards lower participation in both parties primaries. He said ‚??on another level, the combined turnout in the 32 states which had statewide primaries for nominees in both parties was 18.7 percent of eligible citizens, tying 1998 for the second lowest turnout level ever and only exceeding the 16.7 percent turnout in the 2006 primaries. All of these figures are a third lower than the average mid-term primary turnout prior to 1974.‚??These figures speak to the falling away of an ever larger slice of the population from active political participation and the continuing decline in public involvement with the major political parties, reducing their ability to serve as forces of cohesion within the American polity.‚?Ě
As the 2014 figures show Gans was right again in 2010 when he said that ‚??all indications are that this situation will get worse, if it ever gets better.‚?Ě That is a message for both parties that they need to do more to have a message and a platform that will attract more voter enthusiasm and support.
Jay O’Callaghan is a veteran election analyst who served as a staffer for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.