Given all the attention that the recent Democratic primaries generated, you’d assume that if we compared county by county Election Day turnout by party in 2008 and 2016, you’d see a big benefit for Democrats. And you’d further assume that early voting would show a further edge for our side.
You’d be wrong in both cases. The increased turnout – everywhere other than Baltimore City, which had the added bonus of a mayoral primary – was driven entirely by increased GOP turnout. And Republicans have proved to be much better consumers of the conveniences of early voting than have Democrats.
Three spreadsheets tell the tale. The first is Democratic turnout by county, comparing 2008 and 2016. One caveat: this data only includes early vote and Election Day data, because (1) absentee data wasn’t available and I haven’t added it in yet; and (2) because 2008 was the last election with no early voting, so isolating on that number is informative.
Several observations: one, early voting has done nothing to increase turnout, but has instead displaced Election Day turnout to early voting. Precinct turnout dropped from 821K to 666K, with 190K early vote. When absentees are added in, there will likely be a very small increase. Baltimore City and Howard County increased overall turnout slightly, but the percentages are down, down, down.
Now let’s look at the same data for the GOP.
Just the opposite. Every county is up, some by substantial numbers. Overall, the increase was over 115K, a 136K edge on Democratic turnout changes from 2008 to 2016. And unlike the Democrats, Republicans INCREASED precinct turnout by almost 25% (71K) while also making solid use of rely voting as well.
Put it all side by side and it’s not pretty. Spreadsheet #3, please.
Remember, this is comparison of two presidential years. The ones we Democrats are supposed to OWN. What do we see? A decided enthusiasm gap, in favor of Republicans – on the most favorable electoral ground for Democrats that we can imagine – presidential year, multiple competitive primaries, high turnout.
What’s this going to look like in 2018? Disaster, if it stays like this. And for any remaining competitive legislative races outside Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore City, forget it. Much of our turnout disappears in gubernatorial years, and with a popular incumbent governor seeking reelection, larger jurisdictions like Baltimore and Anne Arundel County and smaller ones like Carroll, Cecil, Harford, St. Mary’s, Washington and Wicomico, are going to be bloodbaths for Democrats.
So when someone brings up 2016 turnout, don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. Because we got beat on enthusiasm and best badly by right wingers super psyched to vote for – Donald Trump. If that doesn’t terrify you on both the state and national levels, nothing will.
So I’m back, and I carry a message: be afraid. Be very afraid. Then get back to work. There’s a lot to do between now and 2018. I’d like to start with something simple: instead of registering more voters who won’t turn out, maybe we should focus on turning out the voters we actually have?
Funny thing, though, I have some bad news on that front, too. But enough gloom and doom for one night.