2011 Elections, October 3 Edition

In our previous installment, we discussed the upcoming elections within and without Louisiana that will be held in October and November. In this article, we will focus only on October elections.

West Virginia Governor

While early voting in Louisiana “kicks off” this Saturday for the October 22 primary, West Virginia is actually holding an election tomorrow. The Democratic “incumbent” is Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, who became governor when former governor Joe Manchin was elected to the Senate seat held by the late Robert Byrd last year. His Republican opponent is a businessman named Bill Maloney. The race has considerably tightened in recent days, as a 46-40% lead that the Democrat once held has tightened to 47-46% in a poll released today. Though in Presidential elections, West Virginia has moved considerably to the right in the last decade, Democrats still dominate locally – only two Republicans have been elected governor since the onset of the Great Depression.

Louisiana Statewide Primary

In Louisiana, in person early voting starts this Saturday and continues until Saturday, October 15 (mail in ballots will still be accepted up to the Friday before Election Day). Those politically engaged are naturally interested in what turnout will be, and who will show up. This election is unlike prior statewide elections, because you have a state Democratic Party that, for the first time, has essentially decided not to compete at the statewide level – only minor candidates are running in the races for Governor, Insurance Commissioner, and Agriculture Commissioner.

To best assess the issue of turnout quantity, we will examine in person early voting as it progresses, and will make turnout projections. From looking at early voting in the past, we have seen that there is some correlation between the early voting volume and the resulting turnout. For example, in the 2007 statewide primary (when Governor Jindal was elected without a runoff), about 139,000 early voted, and the overall turnout was 1.32 million – in other words, a 47% voter turnout. In the 2010 general election (the race where Senator Vitter was comfortably re-elected over Charlie Melancon, and Jay Dardenne was easily elected Lt. Governor), early voting was slightly less (125,000 early voted), and turnout was similarly a little lower – 1.3 million, or 44%, turned out.

So what should I read into the early voting statistics? Typically, the first day of early voting brings out a relatively large crowd of early voters (although the LSU/Florida game currently scheduled at 2:30 PM in Tiger Stadium has the potential to affect the first day early voting turnout). The early voting volume then plunges for the rest of the week, although you typically have an uptick near the conclusion of early voting. As early voting progresses, we will continually adjust our turnout estimates. Is our method accurate? In last year’s Senate race, our final projection was of a 40% voter turnout, and 44% actually showed up.

What will the Democratic turnout be in the primary? With the major exception of the 2008 Presidential election (which had a massive pro Obama turnout), we have seen that since the inception of in person early voting, Democrats typically face a 5-8% enthusiasm gap during early voting week when compared against those who show up to vote on Election Day. And in the 2007 statewide primary, Democratic enthusiasm was particularly weak – 16% of early voters/24% of all voters were black (compared to a 30% black voter registration). It is this yardstick we will be using as early voting progresses to make turnout assumptions for the October 22 primary election.