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What Does High Turnout Mean?

November 2nd, 2010 by Steven Gardner

In preparing the Tuesday story on the election, I made late contact with the heads of both county parties and Stuart Elway, who polls in Seattle.

Only Carl Olson, the Democrat, was able to get back in touch with me before the story filed. That had more to do with me getting in touch with these people late than anything else. All three eventually responded.

Olson said Democratic turnout appears to be good. Sandra LaCelle from the GOP side she expects Republicans will do well. Elway hedged.

My overriding question was what does the high turnout mean? There are two schools of thought on it. One is that high turnout favors Democrats. The other is high turnout favors the direction of the political winds. We will likely get our first whiff of what will happen here in Washington when polls start closing out east. Namely, look for which way the surprises are going. If Democrats in the east are doing better than expected, that bodes well for Patty Murray. If Republicans are doing better than expected, Rossi’s chances start to look better.

In the recent past higher turnout has favored Democrats in Washington. In 1998 and 2006 turnout was higher than 68 percent in Kitsap. Democrats did well. In 1994 turnout was 61 percent in Kitsap and 60 percent in the state. Republicans won just about everywhere. In 2002 turnout in Kitsap was 63 percent and about 66 percent in the state. The party mix was just that; a mix.

By the way, as I write polls are closing in parts of Kentucky and Indiana.

So what to expect tonight? I’ve laid down my bets in the office pool, and this was the toughest election I’ve ever tried to predict. I expect to lose my $2. After 8 p.m. I’ll let on what my picks were.

As for Elway’s hedging, I mean no disrespect. He reflected the reason I had such a hard time filling out my projections.

I don’t know that there is a definitive answer. Both arguments are credible. The first is the “lazy Democrat” model which holds that the “surge voters” from 2008 are not engaged this year. The second supports the “enthusiasm gap” model, which holds that there are a large number of angry voters heading for the polls this time who have not voted (regularly) in the past. I tend to think that larger turnout mostly accelerates the direction of the overall vote. I tend to think that a larger than normal turnout accelerates the trend – which stands to reason, because a larger turnout would partially create a trend.

Long non-answer. It is one of the questions that will be easier to answer in retrospect.

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3 Responses to “What Does High Turnout Mean?”

  1. Colleen Smidt Says:

    My predictions:

    Murray/Rossi – this is going to be way too close to call tonight. There will most likely be a recount and some sort of legal challenge. Especially if this is the race that hangs everything in the balance. I am actually going to agree with Chris Mathews on this one. (Something that I have never done before) Yesterday Chris said that whoever had the momentum going into today would win and that it was looking good for Rossi. That must have hurt him a little inside to say that.

    Inslee

    Dicks

    Kilmer

    Sheldon

    Angel

    Richards

    Haigh

    Simpson

    Brown

  2. micksheldon Says:

    Ah Steve you should run for office. Your opinion should lead the way on the outcomes. But your need to be impartial is understood. Your guess is better then most calculations . Actually Captain Kirk said that to Spock when they were trying to get back to their century in a tuime warp. But I digress.

    Collen I hope Richards wins, Sequest has lost my respect as a representative . Takes on the persona of a person above the fray, but with his past comments about others he disagreed with , and the terrible mud slinging at Richards I hope he is out the door.

    Appelton and Rolfes will win in the north end . Its pretty boring up north , good thing I have cable so I can watch how the rest of the country is reacting to bad economic times . We have to change course is my perspective. But I did not vote for the democrat either when we spent so much with the last republican administration. But the average voter is not partsian like me , I think they vote for what they see is just right for America without paying to all the details like we partsians. I believe the majority of Americans believe we need to change course, lessen spending, pay down the debt. Do better with allowing the job marker to prosper

  3. Pete Madsen Says:

    Re Seaquest’s comments in the past, I still remember how nasty he was toward NASCAR fans back when there was a chance of a whole bunch of money coming into the county. I’m afraid he lost me then.

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