Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Voter turnout in Virginia ... and what it implies

After the latest round of primaries, Barack Obama is definitely on a roll. But so are the Democrats.

Apart from the question of whether Obama or Clinton gets the Democratic nomination for President, the comparison between voter turnout by Democratic and Republican voters throughout this campaign has been striking, and is almost certainly significant. In almost every state that has had primaries or caucuses so far, with pretty few exceptions, more Democratic voters have turned out than Republican voters. This has been true even in states that usually vote Republican in national elections, and in a number of states the Democratic turnout has swamped the Republican turnout.

National totals are unambiguously lopsided in the Democratic direction. On Super Tuesday, for example, there were 14,622,822 votes for Clinton and Obama, vs. 8,370,022 votes for McCain, Romney, and Huckabee (and fairly small numbers for other candidates on both sides).

Now look at these results from the Virginia primaries on Tuesday, February 12, which were contested in both parties (via Sisyphus):
Here's what we learned from Virginia: with 99% of the vote counted, the Republicans combined for about 457,000 votes. Barack Obama had 617,000. [JW: In the end, Clinton & Obama got over 970,000 votes between them, and Obama alone got 623,141, vs. 481,970 for all four Republican candidates.]. In a state that hasn't voted Democratic since 1964. That is a signal.
For Sisyphus (Stephen Retherford) and others he quotes from in his post, it's a signal that the Democrats should nominate Obama. That could be.

But I would add that this whole pattern also sends another signal--that this year Democratic voters seem far more mobilized and energized than Republican voters across the board. By itself, that's not decisive evidence that the Republicans are headed for electoral catastrophe in November. But it's one more indication that they have good cause to worry, and that even John McCain, their strongest candidate, may be not able to prevent a rout.

Yes, the polls show McCain (unlike the other Republican candidates and ex-candidates) running even with or close to either Democratic candidate in the general election. But by now we should have learned to take polls with a grain of salt, and I would guess that these turnout figures undercut the message of those poll results.

Of course, a lot can happen in 9 months, and I'm not foolish enough to actually make predictions. But there are some things you can't help noticing.

--Jeff Weintraub