The 2022 primary season is all but in the books. Intraparty contests in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island wrapped up this past week, so all that’s left is Louisiana on Election Day in November and its unique jungle primary system.
About 80% of the states that held primaries this year have turnout data that we can compare to midterm primaries since 2010 to detect some interesting trends across the electorate: One is good for Republicans. One is good for Democrats. And one is just plain old good for democracy.
In a big change from 2018: More people voted in Republican primaries this year
No matter how you slice or dice the data, the majority of people across the country who voted in primaries this year chose a Republican ballot or voted for a Republican candidate (in the case of nonpartisan top two primary systems in states such as California and Washington). This was a big shift from 2018.
Now, I should be clear: Depending how you compile this data, you can get slightly different numbers.
In my analysis, I first looked to see if the state’s board of elections or its secretary of state had disclosed the number of people who chose a party’s primary ballot. If that was unavailable, I looked at the statewide race with the most votes cast in either the Democratic or Republican primary. And if that was unavailable, I tallied up the statewide total number of votes for the US House of Representatives, which was only used if there was a race on the ballot in every district in the state.
If none of that data was available for either 2018 or 2022, I didn’t include those states. That meant the following states were not part of my analysis: Alaska (which changed its primary system this cycle), Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota (where there were no Democratic races statewide in 2022), Utah or Virginia. The combined primary voters in these states voted roughly in line with the nation.
Using my method, 53% of people voted in Republican primaries this year, compared with 47% who voted in Democratic primaries in the 40 states I studied. Without rounding, GOP turnout exceeded Democratic turnout by about 5 points.
This is quite the change from 2018, when a similar 53% of voters cast ballots in Democratic primaries versus 47% who voted in Republican primaries. That was good enough for a 6-point advantage for Democrats.
This year looks closer to the 2010 and 2014 primaries, when Republicans had an edge over Democrats of 10 points and 9 points, respectively. (Note: full statewide data for Connecticut was unavailable for 2014, but the state is not populated enough to swing the analysis.)
While this year’s partisan makeup of primary voters is not nearly as Republican as 2010 or 2014, it still points to a midterm election in which the GOP has a slight edge nationally. Since 2010, the partisan makeup of midterm primary voters has been 3 points more Republican than their eventual margin in the national House vote. Given that Republicans have a 5-point lead among primary voters this year, that would align with them winning the national House vote by 2 points.
This also matches up with what we’re seeing more broadly in the national polling. Republicans are clearly not doing as badly as they were in 2018. But they’re not doing anywhere near as well as they did in 2010 or 2014.
Abortion issue charged up Democrats
There is one notable state where Democrats this year made up a significantly larger share of primary voters than they did four years ago: Kansas. That’s important because there was a measure on the ballot whose backers’ ultimate goal was to limit abortion in the Sunflower State.
Democrats made up 38% of partisan primary voters in 2022, up from 33% in 2018. The Republican percentage dropped from 67% to 62%, which meant the GOP margin in Kansas was 10 points worse this year than 2018. Nationally, it was 11 points better for Republicans. The difference in Kansas was entirely because of the spike in Democratic primary turnout, which was up 85% from 2018 and overshadowed Republicans’ own uptick of 50%.
This is what you might expect given that national polling has shown Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that abortion is a top issue. No other primary saw anywhere close to the rise in Democratic turnout in Kansas.
What this exactly means for November is less clear. Most Americans won’t be voting in a state with an abortion measure on the ballot.
Perhaps a better indicator is to examine all the states that voted in primaries after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade on June 24, eliminating the federal constitutional right to an abortion. And that picture is not nearly as good for Democrats as in Kansas. The shift in the turnout margin from 2018 was 7 points in favor of the GOP in the states that held primaries in July, August and September.
That’s still better, though, than the 12-point shift toward the GOP in states that voted before Roe was overturned.
This data would suggest that eliminating Roe was helpful at firing up Democrats, even if not to the extent that we witnessed in Kansas.
Even without Trump in the White House, turnout flourished
Former President Donald Trump changed politics from the first moment he came down that escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015. He charged up voters on both sides of the aisle. Therefore, without him in the White House, you might expect that high interest in politics to wane.
Although we’re still waiting for the official turnout figures from final primaries this month, turnout will be higher than it has been in any midterm since at least 2010. Nearly 42 million people cast a ballot in either a Democratic or Republican primary this year in the 40 states I looked at.
That’s more than the 40 million who voted in these same states four years ago. It is greater than the 33 million who voted in these states in 2010 and far greater than the 27 million who voted in 2014.
A lot of this was because Republicans were more pumped to vote this year. GOP primary turnout was nearly 22 million, up 3 million from 2018. On the Democratic side, nearly 20 million voters turned out in the primaries, down about 1.5 million from 2018. (This year’s Democratic figure, however, still exceeds the 2010 and 2014 primary turnout totals by 5 million and 7 million, respectively.)
What does this mean for November? The much larger turnout in 2018 primaries, relative to 2010 and 2014, presaged the highest midterm general election turnout in a century (50% of all eligible Americans) as opposition to Trump brought scores of voters to the polls. Likewise, the lower turnout in the 2014 primaries portended the lowest midterm general election turnout since World War II (37%). Turnout in 2010 was somewhere in the middle, with 41% of Americans voting that fall.
We can’t say for certain if the higher primary turnout in 2022 means November’s turnout will top 2018’s.
- Polling this year has generally backed up the idea that voters are about as enthusiastic as they were four years ago.
- Even without Trump as president, he’s still very much involved in our politics.
- Unlike four years ago, the hot button issue of abortion is far more in the public consciousness.
There’s a lot to be determined when voters cast their ballots in less than two months. But one thing is for certain: Voter engagement should be running high.