Primary turnout — not really a problem?

| February 8, 2008

My co-blogger Bruce Henderson, as well as a number of other commentators in both new and old media, have raised concerns about the fall election prospects for Republicans given the disparity (typically around 2:1) between Democratic primary turnout and Republican primary turnout in the same state.

However, Will Franklin over at WILLisms — who always does a great job of going back to the numbers — shows that there have been similar disparities in previous election years and yet Republicans have ended up winning the general election, sometimes in a landslide:

Look at 1988, for example. That was a record year. Democrats demolished Republicans in the primaries, yet it was a sweeping landslide for George Herbert Walker Bush over Michael Dukakis in November. Despite plenty of enthusiasm in the primaries, general election turnout (50.1%) was the second lowest of the past twelve presidential elections (only better than 49.1% in 1996).

Look at 1980, when Democrats had six million more primary voters than Republicans. Ronald Reagan went on to destroy Jimmy Carter in the general election.

Will has a table showing primary and election results for every Presidential election going back to 1972. Only twice — in 1996 and 2000 — did the Republicans have a greater turnout than the Democrats in the primaries. And yet Republicans won 6 out of those 9 elections.

This is not to say there aren’t reasons for Republicans to be concerned. But based on history, the differences in primary turnout are not a significant predictor as to how the election will fall.  ..bruce w..

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Category: 2008 Election, Main, US Politics

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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