Any early thoughts about what primary turnout might look like?

Why yes I do, thanks for asking. The early indicators are that we are in for lower than usual turnout.

With President Joe Biden facing only token opposition in the Democratic primary and Trump pulling away on the GOP side, the presidential race won’t be driving voter turnout, leaving that work to lower-budget campaigns that have a fraction of the resources to do that work.

That has Republicans and Democrats bracing for what could be half the turnout that would normally happen in a year with competitive primary elections. In 2020 and 2016, for instance, when there were competitive presidential primaries, Texas had more than 4 million voters cast ballots.

In 2012, with both races already essentially decided before Texas voted, just 2 million people showed up to vote — 16% of the electorate.

“Historically, the primaries always have relatively low turnout,” said Billy Monroe, a political science professor at Prairie View A&M University.

But it gets even worse without a hot presidential primary drawing voters to the polls, he said.

Turnout in the November 2020 presidential election was 66%, compared with just 25% for the primary elections.

That lower primary turnout has real ramifications down the ballot, where candidates for Congress or the Legislature have to change their tactics compared with a big turnout election where the primaries are getting a lot of attention.

“It totally changes the dynamics,” said Ford O’Connell, a veteran GOP campaign strategist. “The universe of voters you can count to show up is decreasing.”

The article has a chart showing total statewide primary turnout for Presidential years for both parties combined, but that’s not granular enough for me. This is what I want to see:

Year   Harris D   Harris R     State D     State R   HD Pct   HR Pct
2020    328,496    195,723   2,094,428   2,017,167   15.68%    9.70%
2016    227,280    329,768   1,435,895   2,836,488   15.83%   11.63%
2012     76,486    163,980     590,164   1,449,477   12.96%   11.31%
2008    410,908    171,108   2,874,986   1,362,322   14.29%   12.56%
2004     78,692     82,212     839,231     687,615    9.38%   11.96%

“HD Pct” is the percentage of statewide Democratic turnout that came from Harris County; “HR Pct” is the same for the Republican side. If you needed another way to visualize the mantra that Harris County is Democratic now, there you go.

I don’t have any deep thoughts here. Before I put this chart together my thinking was we Dems will have better turnout than 2012, mostly because there are several high-profile non-Presidential primaries, but won’t get to 2020 levels. Maybe we’ll be around where 2016 was, I dunno. Ask me again after early voting starts.

I do expect Dems to beat Republicans in turnout in Harris County. We have two Congressional primaries with candidates that have raised over a million dollars, we have the open SD15 race and the District Attorney race and a couple of State House races and even the Tax Assessor race, which is lower profile but still involves an open seat and a group of active candidates. Oh, and also that US Senate primary, in which some money is being spent.

That latter race may drive higher Democratic turnout statewide than Republican turnout. There are a bunch of State House primaries into which a ton of money plus the direct involvement of Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton will drive voters to the polls, but there are only so many of those and there isn’t that much beyond them. I don’t want to go too far out on that branch because I don’t know what the county race situation is in some high-population deep red places, but at least Dems have one statewide race to generate interest, and as noted there’s action in Harris County. We’ll see where that takes us. I’ll check on this as we go forward.

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2 Responses to Any early thoughts about what primary turnout might look like?

  1. J says:

    Don’t look now, but this is the election that could be the final purchase of the Texas government by the supposedly Christian billionaire oil guys. Texas Monthly has a deep dive on one of them, Tim Dunn, who is simply evil. I find myself wondering how all these incumbent GOPers who have been targeted for defeat feel about the unlimited dark money for politics now. Will they ever get together and put up some kind of a fight? It doesn’t look like it.

  2. Pingback: 2024 Primary Early Voting, Day One: And we’re off | Off the Kuff

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