Pri­mary turnout, fall win un­linked; Democrats’ claims defy his­tory

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Don­ald Lam­bro

The Democrats are claim­ing that record voter turnout in their party pri­maries will trans­late into win­ning the White House in Novem­ber, but elec­tion stud­ies show there is no cor­re­la­tion be­tween the two in mod­ern pres­i­den­tial his­tory.

“Record turnout dur­ing the pri­maries has been trans­for­ma­tional for the Demo­cratic Party as record num­bers of new vot­ers are be­ing reg­is­tered,” the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee said in a mem­o­ran­dum to its sup­port­ers and the news me­dia two weeks ago. “Democrats are en­er­gized all across the coun­try and we’re [. . . ] prov­ing that if Democrats show up and talk about our val­ues, we will win.”

But Cur­tis Gans, a vet­eran voter­turnout an­a­lyst who heads the Com- mit­tee for the Study of the Amer­i­can Elec­torate at Amer­i­can Univer­sity said it would be wrong to con­clude that high pri­mary turnout leads to vic­tory in Novem­ber.

“It is true that turnout has been ex­tra­or­di­nary this pri­mary sea­son, par­tic­u­larly in the Demo­cratic Party, but also in the Repub­li­can Party,” Mr. Gans said. “As of [May 8], 24 states that have had pri­maries have had record turnout — 22 Demo­cratic pri­maries have set records and 12 Repub­li­can pri­maries have set records

“But there is not nec­es­sar­ily a cor­re­la­tion be­tween pri­mary turnout and gen­eral-elec­tion turnout,” he said. “There is no rule on this. You can have high turnout in the pri­maries and still lose. That’s what hap­pened to the Democrats when Ge­orge McGovern won the nom­i­na­tion in 1972 dur­ing the Viet- nam War” but lost a 49-state land­slide to Pres­i­dent Nixon.

Repub­li­can an­a­lysts pointed to sim­i­lar cases where the party with the higher pri­mary turnout was de­feated in the gen­eral elec­tion. In 1988, af­ter eight years of Pres­i­dent Rea­gan, Demo­cratic pri­mary turnout was nearly twice that of the Repub­li­can Party, but Vice Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush eas­ily won.

“Since 1972, the out-of-power party has had higher turnout in the pri­maries in ev­ery elec­tion ex­cept for 1980,” ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Repub­li­can anal­y­sis of pri­ma­ry­turnout his­tory.

At about the time the DNC memo was re­leased, a study by two aca­demics came out last week that also found no cor­re­la­tion be­tween pri­mary-voter turnout and suc­cess in the gen­eral elec­tion.

“Our find­ings show that no mat- ter which party has the edge in nom­i­na­tion-con­test turnout, there is no re­sul­tant ad­van­tage in the gen­eral elec­tion for that party,” wrote Leonard Wil­liams, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at Manch­ester Col­lege and Neil Woll­man, a se­nior fel­low at the Bent­ley Al­liance for Ethics and So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity at Bent­ley Col­lege.

The two aca­demics said they gath­ered pri­mary-turnout vot­ing data go­ing back sev­eral decades to study “the ex­tent to which the party with the high­est turnout rates in the pri­mary could be ex­pected to win in the fall elec­tion.”

They found that “par­ti­san ad­van­tage in nom­i­na­tion-con­test turnout and the par­ti­san ad­van­tage in the gen­eral-elec­tion out­come are un­re­lated,” adding that this “holds true, re­gard­less of the re­gion of the coun­try ex­am­ined and re­gard­less of the time pe­riod stud­ied.”

“I looked at those who had a big turnout to de­ter­mine if they had the likely ad­van­tage, but there is no sig­nif­i­cant re­la­tion­ship,” Mr. Wil­liams said in a phone in­ter­view, ex­plain­ing that his study is “not try­ing to make any pre­dic­tion about what will hap­pen this year” but sim­ply “test the con­ven­tional wis­dom that we’ve seen in a num­ber of news ac­counts.”

The DNC points to an es­ti­mated 3.5 mil­lion in­crease in voter reg­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing vot­ers who “are chang­ing their party reg­is­tra­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the Demo­cratic pri­maries and cau­cuses,” as fur­ther ev­i­dence of the party’s grow­ing strength.

But Mr. Gans said, “I don’t trust that fig­ure. I don’t know what it means in terms of pop­u­la­tion growth and a whole se­ries of other things.”

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