What Might Happen

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We’re now half-way through the 2010 primary election season, and can already begin to detect certain trends that may affect the November vote. 


With already two incumbent U.S. Senators being defeated for re-nomination as well as two Representatives – and another Senator barely surviving a run-off election, while a South Carolina Republican Congressman is likely to fail in his succeeding nomination election later this month – the voters are showing that they are not afraid to unseat even their own party’s office holders. 


The type of candidate winning the various primary elections also tells us something about what might be the November electorate’s composition.  Tea Party-backed candidates won stunning victories over establishment-oriented candidates in the Kentucky, Nevada, and South Carolina Republican primaries and Democratic voters overwhelmingly chose the more liberal candidates in Pennsylvania and Alabama statewide campaigns.  These examples give us further indications that the base voters of both major political parties are becoming even more polarized within their nomination voting structures.  This could have some effect upon the November election’s intensity factor, a critical component to determining voter trends and identifying who will eventually win the various general elections.


The previous examples are interesting also because they reveal conflict for general election candidates.  While nominees often try to position themselves in the middle of the political spectrum, referring to themselves as “centrists” and trying to appeal to those who characterize their own political beliefs as being in “the middle of the road” – which, many times is a plurality of the electorate -- we’re finding this same positioning strategy is a loser for candidates during the current primaries.  For Republicans in Utah, Alabama, Kentucky, Nevada, Texas, and South Carolina and Democrats in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, those candidates who tried to portray themselves as 2010 moderates in hotly contest political battles were soundly rejected. 


Turnout patterns give us further clues as to what may happen later in the year.  In every state contested primaries featured at least normal participation rates but, in most places, the number of individuals casting ballots was higher than usual.  Several states tell an interesting story, particularly when remembering that they were trendsetters in 2008.


In both South Carolina and Indiana, 2008 Democratic turnout soared to new heights, driven by Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy.  In the Palmetto State, more than 532,000 people voted in the Democratic primary, an all-time record, as opposed to 445,500 Republicans.  Both races were relatively equal because the presidential race featured no incumbent and South Carolina is a very important primary state within each party’s presidential hierarchy.  In the current mid-term elections, with both parties choosing nominees for their open Governor’s race, more than 420,000 Republicans voted in early June, a number similar to their previous presidential level, but Democrats dropped way back to just 188,600 voters, which tells us that the intensity factor is currently strong among Republicans.


The Hoosier State is telling a similar tale.  While it was clear that the 2008 Republicans had a major enthusiasm problem, the reverse appears evident for 2010.  More than 1.2 million people voted in the 2008 Indiana Democratic presidential primary versus just 410,000+ for Republicans.  This year, in the congressional nomination battles, the GOP more than doubled Democratic turnout, sending more than 550,000 people to the polls as compared to only 247,000 Democrats. 


The GOP also saw substantially greater 2010 primary turnouts than Democrats in more traditional Republican states of Alabama, Idaho, and Texas, but also outpaced the Dems in marginal states like Iowa, Maine, Nevada, and Ohio.  Republicans found virtual parity with Democratic turnout in some more surprising places such as California, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Oregon, though they generally had more contested races than Democrats in two of these four places, with North Carolina and Oregon being the exceptions. 


Democrats fared much better than Republicans in Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  Like for Republicans in California and New Mexico, Democrats featured all of the interesting races in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Kentucky had a hot Senate race in both party primaries and Democratic turnout was substantially better than that for Republicans.  This again suggests another close general election campaign in the Blue Grass State, which is a strong GOP state in presidential elections, but tends to split its vote for other statewide offices.


All of this points to what will be yet another historically significant election in 2010.  We’ll see what information the late primaries bring us, with the greatest concentration of those elections occurring in September.

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