Democrats get high turnout again, this time in Illinois

The primaries in Illinois on Tuesday night were, for the most part melodramatic -- some big names got scares but ther...

Posted: Mar. 22, 2018 8:01 AM
Updated: Mar. 22, 2018 8:02 AM

The primaries in Illinois on Tuesday night were, for the most part melodramatic -- some big names got scares but there were no major upsets.

There was, however, some good news for Democrats: In the second of two statewide primaries this year (Texas being the other), turnout was significantly higher for Democrats than in either 2010 or 2014.

There were just under 1.3 million votes cast in the Illinois Democratic primary Tuesday to just over 700,000 in the Republican primary. Put another way, 64% of the votes cast were on the Democratic line, compared with only 36% on the Republican line. Now, Illinois is a blue state, but even taking that into account, it was an impressive performance for Democrats.

Dating back to 1998, there has never been a midterm year in which there was a higher percentage of two-party votes cast in the Illinois Democratic primary compared with 2018. Importantly, this includes 2010, when both the Democrats and Republicans had competitive gubernatorial primaries, like this year. In 2010, just 54% of all primary votes were cast in the Democratic primary when Republicans gained over 60 seats across the country and control of the US House.

Now, as with Texas, it's the case that there isn't a clear connection with the primary vote in Illinois and the eventual result in November. Democrat Pat Quinn actually won the general election for governor of Illinois in 2010, for example. Democrats also had their previous highest turnout in 2002 (58% of the two-party vote, compared with 64% in 2018), and Republicans did well in that year's midterm election nationally.

The key here, though, is to look at both Illinois and Texas. Both show much higher engagement in the Democratic primary in 2018 than in either 2010 or 2014. That's important because we know that at least since 2004, the sum of all the primary votes across all states has tended to be telling of what happens in the general election. When there are more cast in Democratic primaries nationally than in Republican primaries, Democrats usually do better and vice versa.

Of course, we've had only two primaries so far. But these results are consistent with other elections so far, showing that polls having Democrats ahead in the 2018 midterm race are not off. They are being confirmed by actual returns.

Although Republican Rick Saccone has not conceded, Democrat Conor Lamb continues to hold a small lead in a Pennsylvania congressional district President Donald Trump won by 20 points. It was just the latest special election in which a Republican did worse than you'd expect given the previous presidential results in the district.

If the trends that we saw in Illinois and Texas continue in other states, Republicans are in a heap of trouble in the midterms.

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