Polling News

Higher Voter Turnout Should Worry Sanders

February 11, 2016

In his Tuesday night victory speech in New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “Let us never forget, Democrats and progressives when voter turnout is high. Republicans win where people are demoralized, and voter turnout is low.”

Actually, that’s wrong.  As the “American Presidency Project” of John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters at the University of California, Santa Barbara point out at their website, the relationship Sen. Sanders described doesn’t exist, at least looking at the last ten presidential elections.

When turnout (as a percentage of the voting age population) increased over the previous election, as it did in five contests, Republicans won three (1984, 2000 and 2004), Democrats two (1992 and 2008).  One Democratic victory was 1992’s three-way contest, when Bill Clinton received essentially a smaller percentage Michael Dukakis did in 1988 (43% for Clinton and 45.6% for Dukakis).  

In the four instances where turnout nationally dropped compared to the previous election, Republicans won two contests (1980 and 1988) and Democrats two (1996 and 2012).

Year         Turnout         Winner

1976        53.55%        Democrat
1980        52.56%        Republican
1984        53.27%        Republican
1988        50.15%        Republican
1992        55.24%        Democrat
1996        49.00%        Democrat
2000        51.21%        Republican
2004        56.70%        Republican
2008        58.23%        Democrat    
2012        54.87%        Democrat

Sen. Sanders should worry if he’s right.  Compare the results of the two recent Granite State primaries where both parties had open contests.  In 2000, the turnout in the GOP primary in New Hampshire was 236,802 and in the Democratic primary, 154,639.  Republicans went on to carry the state in November.  In 2008, the GOP contest drew 234,851 while the Democratic primary had 287,557 voting and Democrats took the state in the fall.  This time, 284,120 Granite State residents turned out in the Republican primary while 250,974 cast Democratic ballots.  If recent history is a guide, the GOP could have the upper hand in New Hampshire this November.

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