Some notes on 2016 primary voting trends (or the lack thereof)

April 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 27, 2016

Out of idle curiosity, I began looking at popular vote numbers in Tuesday night’s primaries. Interestingly, the data show that in three states, the Democratic runner-up — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Clintaln in Rhode Island — received more votes than the Republican winnerbusinessman Donald Trump in all five of that states.

Trump outdid Sanders in Delaware, 42,472 to 36,659, and in Pennsylvania, 892,702 to 719,955.

However, in none of these states did Trump get more votes than the Democratic winner. Maryland, in fact, wasn’t even close — Clinton’s 533,247 votes were more than twice as many as the number Trump got in the Old Line State, 236,623.

I glanced at the vote tallies for all states, but for various reasons, it’s hard to draw apples-to-apples comparisons. One reason is that Real Clear Politics, the site that has the easiest-to-view primary popular-vote totals, omits counts for states that don’t hold direct presidential preference elections. Iowa Democrats, for instance, don’t release vote totals, only the candidate ultimately chosen by the state’s 1,681 precincts, while Colorado Republicans select presidential nomination delegates through a series of caucuses.

Another complication is that not all jurisdictions have a unified election day. The Republican primary in the District of Columbia, a jurisdiction that will cast three votes when the Electoral College next convenes, was held on March 12. The District’s Democratic primary will occur on June 14, making it the very last presidential preference contest in the land.

(Fewer than 3,000 Republicans went to the polls in D.C., where Democrats represent nearly 76 percent of the electorate and those with no party affiliation are the second-biggest segment, at 16.5 percent.)

Still, when I looked at the top-line numbers, it was hard not to see that Clinton has gotten about 2 million more votes than Trump (12,135,109 to 10,056,690). Sanders’s nearly 9 million votes exceed the total received by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who together have about 7 million votes, and the amount received by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has gotten about 6.9 million.

That would seem to be a good sign for Democrats. On the other hand, the top four Republican candidates have received roughly 24 million votes, outdoing the top two Democrats, who together have accumulated about 21 million votes. That seems to favor the GOP.

A quick web search, however, reveals that primary turnout has no relationship with either general election turnout or general election results. In 2000, for instance, according to PolitiFact’s Linda Qiu, “about 3 million more voters turned out for the Republican primary, but George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore. (Bush won the electoral college and thus the election.)”

In other words, all the 2016 primary numbers that I cited above add up to precisely nothing in terms of predictive value. So while Trump and Clinton seem to be all but assured of winning their respective party nominations — although Trump faces a slightly bumpier road — the truth is that anything could happen come November.

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