Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Turnout tribulations

Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels in Young Mr. Jazz (1919), from Shari Lobdell.
"If the turnout is high, we win," quoth the Bern, and he keeps saying it, with the implication that all the nonvoters out there are just waiting for some explosion of progressiveness to stimulate them into showing up at the polling place, an attractive idea, certainly, to me; the indifference to politics of the many always seems to me like the main thing stopping this from being democracy, and the solution should be to offer them something worth voting for (which happened, clearly, in the relatively high turnout of November 2008).

Only by Super Tuesday you could see pretty clearly it was not true in the present case, and it began to really irritate me that Sanders kept on believing it, but I kind of stopped trying to prove he was wrong because he didn't seem to be wrong in a very interesting way—not so much a pattern he was missing as no pattern at all—and trying to get a properly numerical grip on it was really difficult, or boring, or both.

Then as the Indiana results started coming in I got interested again, with the exit polls suggesting there was some kind of surge among young voters, with an unusual 47% of the total younger than 45, Was the Sanders prediction starting to come true at last?

Sadly, no.

If you compare it to the very exciting 2008 contest between Clinton and Obama, yesterday's turnout among Democrats was less than half (just barely: 49.83%) of that.

Primary Date: May 6, 2008
Indiana Democratic Presidential Primary Results – 2008
DemocraticHillary Rodham Clinton646,23550.56%38
DemocraticBarack Obama632,06149.44%34
Voter turnout %
Compared with this year's

Democratic Primary

Sanders has won Indiana, according to A.P.

 Bernie Sanders

 Hillary Clinton
637,024 votes, 98% reporting (5,290 of 5,374 precincts)

In contrast, Republicans had 1,101,912 total votes this year, compared to just 412,745 in 2008, or better than two and a half times (266%) as many. One reason for the discrepancy must be that there are evidently a lot fewer Democrats in Indiana today than there were in 2008, and a correspondingly lot more Republicans. But that can't be more than part of what's going on.

As a percentage, taking the 2012 presidential vote as an estimate of the total number of Democratic voters (fewer than the number that voted in the 2008 primary!), yesterday's turnout was 637,024/1,152,887 or 55%, which is not at all terrible but not high either (and Republicans had by that standard an extraordinary 77.6%).

So it seems less like a case of younger voters coming out in droves than older ones, and people of color, staying home, not a very encouraging sign at all.

Incidentally, it turns out PolitiFact eventually thought of testing the hypothesis on all the primaries, as they announced a couple of weeks ago, with results not unlike what I would have expected: using the same approximations as I've used here for Indiana, they found a weak pattern of Sanders winning in the two or three very highest-turnout contests and in all the very low-turnout ones as well (in particular all the lower-turnout caucuses), Clinton taking most of the middle ground from moderately high to quite high.

There's a number of plausible reasons for the low turnout yesterday: Clinton really didn't campaign much, spending just a day in the state and heading off to Ohio and West Virginia, and spending no money at all, whereas Sanders spent $1.5 million on TV ads. I also note, though, that Clinton was expected to win the primary narrowly, and the facts that she lost it and the turnout was unexpectedly low could be related.

I hope there's not some kind of effect of the negative campaigning encouraging potential Democratic voters to stay home. (I've long thought it possible that negative advertising doesn't affect Republicans, who expect and even thrive on it, but makes Democrats sad and cynical and less likely to vote.) We should be making an effort to stay positive on our own, remembering that what depends on it goes far beyond the identity of the person sitting in the Oval Office (starting in the Supreme Court).

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