Democrats are Voting Much More than Last Time Around

But will these repeated Democratic waves turn into a Democratic tide?

G. Elliott Morris

Jun. 14, 2017

Categories: 2018 Midterms Tags: House elections special elections





You can’t win an election without turning out voters, and boy, are Democrats taking that to heart. Americans in special and primary elections all over the country are turning out for elections at rates unseen in the most recent midterm cycles. We already know that Democrats are overperforming expectations for electoral performance, but raw votes in recent elections offer us some more insight into just how energized their base is.

The most recent example of widespread voter mobilization is, of course, the 2009-10 Tea Party movement. That uber-conservative campaign saw the election of hundreds (thousands?) of Republicans nationwide. And any discussion of the Tea Party falls flat when we don’t consider it’s status as a well-cogged, efficient ideological machine — one that was backed up by financial machines all over the country. It was a well funded, well motivated movement, and it made real change as a result.

Will history repeat itself nine years later, but for an opposing party?

In The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History Harvard historian Jill Lepore traces the 2009-2010 Tea Party movement back to its roots in the lead up to the American Revolution. But there’s a movement in American politics that has roots far before those stored in Old South Meeting House. That movement is the one against the government, the fundamental and natural opposition to power. Of course, this blog is not exactly an avenue for analyzing the political theory behind institutional power — but know this: The current anti-Trump “Democratic Wave” is strong. In a glimmer of hope for otherwise disheartened liberals, that wave may just turn into a tide.

That’s because the evidence shows that Democrat’s recent wins in down-ballot races aren’t only the result of Republican disaffection; blue ballots are actually increasing nation-wide. The so-called “Resistance” is not gaining ground (just) because of Republican complacency; Democrats are just more active than they have been before. And, by the looks of it, they’re being active in all the right places.

Dem Turnout
Race 2017 Last Cycle Increase (%)
Source: Ballotpedia, Virginia Secretary of State
Democrats are Voting More
than Last Time Around
KS04 55,310 69,396 -20
GA06 Round 1 94,201 71,486 32
MTAL 166,483 148,690 12
CA34 32,869 61,621 -46
NJ Gov Primary 496,479 195,171 154
VA Gov Primary 543,351 319,168 70
Average 33.6

Most recently, 2017 Gubernatorial Democratic Primary election saw a turnout increase of 70% over the most recent cycle. In fact, it saw turnout larger than any non-presidential year election going back 2 decades. The average increase in Democratic ballots cast is 33.6% — an increase that, if it happened at even half that rate, would be enough to win most House races Democrats are eying. The Democrat’s political base really is remarkably engaged.

Big Dem wins show that ideological movements aren’t the only ones that can turn out voters. To be sure, comparisons between “The Resistance” and the Tea Party fall short when going beyond voter mobilization/enthusiasm; one is a ideological movement (as we’ve discussed) and one is, well, a resistance. Its energy is not found in values-based resistance to social change. Rather, it’s an opposition to a political reality that has repercussions throughout the electorate. TBD on which one is more effective at turning political tides.

I’m also still open to the idea that the Resistance morphs (or is morphing) into a larger values-based ideological movement for liberals, similar to the conservative’s 2009 crusade. That seems well within the realm of possibility, given our current political environment.

But for now, Democrats have a common foe, and their opposition to President Donald Trump is an effective lesson in mobilizing voters. What they’re doing so far is working, so why change it up?*

(*Note: I can think of a couple reasons why “changing it up” might help.)


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-Elliott







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