Arizona's 'blue wave' is real, but it's not what you think
by Paul Bentz | September 24, 2018
From the Arizona Republic
By: Paul Bentz, Senior Vice President - Research & Strategy
The August 2018 Primary Election had “record” turnout and the “blue wave” is real. Both of these statements are true, but to borrow a famous line from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” While both declarations are accurate, a little perspective is in order.
First, let’s talk about the turnout in the Primary Election. It is indeed true that the turnout this year was a “record” high, shattering the previous record set in 2010. For perspective, turnout for this election was 33.3%, besting the previous record of 30.1%. Bear in mind, this still means that two-thirds of voters did not show up to vote – the decisions were made by the 1.2 million folks who took the time to vote, a mere 22% of the eligible adult population. So, it is an increase and more voters than we have seen in the past, but it helps to keep an eye on the big picture.
Speaking of the big picture, people have tried to say, “You don’t know who is going to turnout this year.” But actually, we do. The data is pretty settled on it. We know who shows up. The question is who might show up around them. The results in August definitely speak to an anticipated increase in turnout for November. So, what does that look like?
There is a dramatic difference between participation in a Presidential cycle and a Gubernatorial cycle. Presidential cycles typically garner turnout in the 70% range, whereas Gubernatorial cycles are usually in the 50% range. The 2014 general election had the lowest turnout percentage since 1998.
It is clear that we are not likely to see another record low turnout in this cycle – but no matter how much enthusiasm there is, we are not going to somehow magically reach Presidential level turnout either. Our initial projections had anticipated a return to previous norms with a 51% turnout. This would have already been a 3.5 point increase from four years ago. However, with the increased enthusiasm and the numbers we saw in the Primary, we have increased our turnout projection to 54%. This is not quite as large as the tea party wave of 2010 because there are fewer Democrats than Republicans, but it is definitely going to be a surge in Democrat participation.
Speaking of the “Blue Wave,” Democrats definitely turned out in force in the Primary Election. The efforts to field more candidates, have more competitive primaries, and encourage more first-time candidates has paid off. There is more enthusiasm and Democrat participation outperformed historic norms by almost 6 points.
Here is where the perspective kicks in: despite a massive performance by Democrat voters, Republicans still held a 9-point advantage. The State of Arizona did not turn blue overnight. There was a pretty big shift – to be sure – but we are still a center-right state. Democrats still need to garner a significant number of Independent and unaffiliated votes and find ways to speak to Republican women. A strategy based solely on turning out new, progressive voters will not be enough.
However, the “blue wave” will make things much more competitive and give Democrats chances to make gains and even nab a few statewide offices for the first time since 2008. In the Gubernatorial elections, Republicans enjoy an 11 to 14-point participation advantage. However, in the 2018 Primary, Democrats over participated compared to their historic average by nearly 6 points. The issue was heightened in a primary cycle where nearly 2/3rds of voters stay home. However, we do anticipate that the enthusiasm will continue in November, closing the typically large Republican gap. Right now, we are anticipating the “blue wave” will reveal Democrats outperforming their traditional turnout by four points – with most of the proportional decrease being felt by Republicans and a smaller decline in the share of Independents and Others. This methodology is reflective of what we saw in the CD8 special election.
This also holds the trend we saw in the Primary where the Republican advantage is cut in half. Republicans still have an advantage, but it’s lower than what is typically reflected in the off-cycle election. So, based on the revised turnout of 54% and the increased Democrat enthusiasm, November has a chance to be the first Gubernatorial election to break 2 million votes. This would, however, STILL represent a decrease of nearly 700,000 voters compared to the 2016 Presidential Election.
- Total Voters: 1,965,000
- Republicans: 805,650 + 98,250 advantage
- Democrats: 707,400
- Independent/PND/Other: 451,950
So, November is likely to be another “Record” election, but really a record in comparison to other off-cycles. And there will be a “blue wave,” but it’s not a tsunami. Democrats have likely effectively cut the GOP lead in half and we are going to see some very interesting General Election match-ups.
Ultimately, with a much tighter margin, it will come down to who is able to appeal to the traditional swing audiences (Independents, Unaffiliated voters, and Republican women). For Democrats to prevail, they will need to communicate with these swing voters and it would be perilous for Republican candidates to ignore these audiences as well.