Sunday, June 10, 2018

Closer Look at California Primary Results Reveals Democratic Surge in Participation

After writing about the California primary election results being favorable for the Democrats, I ran across an article written Dan Palmer of The Hill who wrote an article titled "There is No 'Blue Wave' in California."  In the article, Palmer aggregates the partisan vote in the California jungle primary and then concludes that, since Republican candidates received more vote than the Democratic candidts in virtually every key district the Democrats have targeted, the GOP will win those districts in the fall.

The article includes a description of Palmer's background:
Dan Palmer is a Republican donor and conservative political strategist. He served as executive director of United We Stand, planned the potential transition of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and supported the campaigns of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) and President Trump.
Given Palmer's background, I am certain he is well aware of the absurdity of his political analysis.  No
doubt he is simply doing what so many conservative commentators are doing these days, telling their audience what they want to hear rather than the far more painful truth. (For another recent example, take Newt Gingrich's piece "The Red Wave is Growing.")  

In analyzing election results, you compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges.  Mid-term elections get compared to mid-term elections.  Presidential election years get compared to other presidential election years.  Why?  Those elections feature starkly different electorates.  Likewise, those who turn out for a general election are far different than those who turn out in the primary which proceeded it. 

That is a phenomenon I personally experienced while running for the House in 2000.  I won the primary for the northwest Indianapolis district.  My Republican opponent and I combined had the primary vote than did the Democrat.  But on the day of the general election, I did not beat my opponent 2-1, but rather only received, rounded off, 40% of the vote.  What happened?  Different electorate.  Voters did not like George W. Bush in that district, and they turned out in droves to vote against him.  My candidacy experienced the collateral damage of increased Democratic-leaning turnout spurred by a race at the top of the ticket.

Again, no doubt Palmer is well aware of the silliness of extrapolating primary vote to predict general election results.  But the primary election results can be used to measure partisan trends in those California Congressional districts.  In employing the apples to apples, oranges to oranges principle of political analysis, I have compared the aggregate partisan primary turnout in 2014 compared to 2018 in the key California districts at play this fall.  Below is what I found.

District 7 10 21 22 25 48 49 50
2014 GOP Vote 34,197 27,495 24,039 49,255 32,028 63,513 56,558 48,413
2014 GOP Pct 51.9 57.3 64.2 74.4 66.7 72.3 61.5 73.7
2014 Dem Vote 31,726 20,465 13,402 16,986 16,005 24,384 34,849 17,269
2014 Dem Pct 48.1 42.7 35.8 25.6 33.3 27.7 38.5 26.3
2018 GOP Vote 37,627 48,475 23,575 42,554 46,042 55,842 53,343 64,706
2018 GOP Pct 46.6 52.2 64.0 59.1 52.9 53.5 48.8 64.0
2018 Dem Vote 43,039 44,437 13,821 29,406 40,992 48,517 55,927 36,439
2018 Dem Pct 53.4 47.8 36.0 40.9 47.1 46.5 51.2 36.0
Democrat Primary Share Increase 10.6 10.2 0.4 30.6 27.637.625.419.4

These tables show that while both parties experienced much higher primary vote in 2018 than 2014, the Democrat primary vote share increased in every district, some districts significantly.  
That is consistent with the markedly increased Democratic turnout that has has been seen in virtually every special election race since the 2016 presidential election.   Primary results do not mean the Republicans will lose those districts, however.  Again, the general election electorate is much different than the much smaller turnout that happens in a primary.

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