A cottage industry has sprung up over the years on the topic of America’s “vanishing voters.” This year’s primary turnouts provide more grist for the discussion, as participation has dropped through the end of June by more than 3 million votes from 2010. That represents a falloff from four years ago of roughly 15%. Primary turnout is up from 2010 in a small, far-flung array of states that have had Senate primaries this year for open seats – Nebraska and West Virginia – as well as Montana, which has a recently appointed senator, and North Carolina, which features an embattled freshman senator. Elsewhere, the number of ballots cast in this year’s primaries is down from 2010, often by a significant amount.

Source: The Rhodes-Cook Letter, June, 2014

Document Outline
Voter Turnout in the 2014 Primaries

Voter Turnout in the 2014 Primaries

The combination this year of the intra-party friction, a slew of competitive primary contests, and the appearance of greater voter interest on the Republican side, has made the GOP primary ballot more popular than that of their Democratic counterparts. In 17 of 25 states where statewide vote totals could be tallied for both parties, more ballots were cast in the Republican primary. Aggregate the votes cast nationally through June, and the GOP has a lead of 9.66 million primary ballots to 8.28 million for the Democrats. That translates into an advantage of 1.38 million primary votes for the Republicans, which swells to 2 million if the vote from California’s unique “top two” primary is removed.

By and large, Republicans have drawn a larger number of primary votes than the Democrats in the GOP heartland – the South, the Plains states and much of the Mountain West. They have also drawn more primary ballots than the Democrats thus far in battleground states of the Midwest such as Illinois and Ohio.

Democrats have enjoyed a primary turnout advantage in the party’s geographic cornerstones, the Northeast and the Pacific West, plus increasingly Republican-leaning states of the border South, such as Kentucky and West Virginia, where Democrats still maintain a substantial advantage in voter registration.

Yet at the same time that Republicans have been building up a lead in the battle of the primary ballots, the overall major-party turnout is down by more than 3 million votes from 2010. Of the 23 states where primary turnouts can be credibly compared with four years ago, the number of ballots cast is up in only four of them. They are states that have either open Senate races (Nebraska and West Virginia) or embattled Senate incumbents who will be closely contested this fall (Montana and North Carolina).

Elsewhere, primary turnouts have been down this year from 2010. To be sure, circumstances can change from one election to another. There may be an embattled incumbent or an exciting open seat race in a state one year, and a dull renomination contest or two for major statewide offices in another year. But in 2014, there has been a virtual across-the-board decline in the number of primary ballots cast from four years ago, in many states a significant decline.

What might this mean for the fall? Republicans won big in 2010 by marshalling an intense, pro-change slice of the national electorate. Such a coalition may be revivable in November. But it is also possible that the lower primary turnout so far this year is the voter’s way of saying to both the Democrats and the Republicans, a pox on both your houses.

Document Citation
Cook, R. (2014). Voter Turnout in the 2014 Primaries. Retrieved from
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