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.