Nearly a month ago, the Democratic nomination contest was concluding in an orderly fashion, as Joe Biden’s clearing of the “moderate” swim lane before “Super Tuesday” enabled him to establish dominance over Bernie Sanders (who just dropped out of the race today). It was his second place finish in Nevada that was the “spark” that enabled him to make a strong comeback in South Carolina a week later. Once the coronavirus pandemic reached critical mass, however, the 2020 election cycle in general and the Democratic nomination contest specifically entered a “sleep phase”, given that most of the country has been under some variation of “stay at home” orders and/or business closures. So where do we currently stand with the 2020 election cycle ?
Taking Point #1 – Rescheduled contests: As this article is being written, 27 states have conducted their Presidential contests, and of those 27, seven states have conducted Congressional/state primary elections as well. And until the spread of the virus has substantially slowed down/government restrictions are eased, no state wants to risk the further spread of this virus by conducting “in person” elections of any kind (unless, of course, that state conducts its elections 100% by mail). Given all the reschedulings that have occurred, below is the primary schedule for the next four weeks:
It’s also worth noting that many contests originally scheduled for April and May got moved back to June 2 (in Louisiana’s case, its April 4 primary was moved all the way back to June 20), which is quickly becoming a summer “Super Tuesday” – 11 contests are currently scheduled on that date alone.
Taking Point #2 – Congressional filing: While primary contests have been steadily moved back during the pandemic, candidate qualifying for future contests has not. As of this morning, 33 states have concluded their Congressional candidate filing, which means that the candidate field is set for 73% of all U.S. House seats. We also know that among those 328 (out of 435) House seats, Democrats are guaranteed winners in 17 seats, while 5 seats are guaranteed to stay Republican. This is the case either because (1) there was no major party competition for those seats, or (2) because (in the case of California with its “top 2” primary election held a month ago) seven House races will have two Democrats on the November general election ballot.
And while state/local primary contests have barely gotten started thanks to coronavirus related postponements of primary dates, all but two states will conclude their candidate filing by June 24 (those two exceptions are Delaware, whose filing concludes July 14; and Louisiana, whose filing concludes on July 17)
Taking Point #3 – Taking the political temperature: As a pollster and data analyst, JMC firmly believes that the political mood of the country can be determined by other data points in addition to polling, such as changes in party registration and partisan primary turnout – the latter was a particularly useful barometer in accurately forecasting the 2018 Democratic wave, which JMC detected as far back as December 2017.
So what do we how about the current political temperature ? Below are JMC’s assessments:
Changes in partisan voter registration: In the 29 states with partisan voter registration that is posted on the Internet (these states in the aggregate have 115 million registered voters), JMC has been periodically tracking changes over time. Since January 2020 (when the 2020 political season began), Democrats have out-registered Republicans 841-329K (an additional 62K have registered with a third party). While some of this activity is undoubtedly new registrations spurred on by a livelier Democratic contest, an imbalance this large in favor of the Democrats does point to more energy on the Democratic side which will likely continue into this fall.
Primary turnout: 27 states have held Presidential contests so far, and below are the turnout numbers for 2008, 2016, and 2020 (in 2008 and 2016, both major parties didn’t have an incumbent running) before the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March (and, in JMC’s opinion, distorted the primary turnouts in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois):
What’s most notable here is not just the fact that Democratic turnout was noticeably higher than 2008 (when the Obama/Clinton contest sparked massive Democratic primary turnout), but with Donald Trump only having nominal opposition within his own party, Republican turnout has been respectable as well – almost identical to the 2008 numbers. This shows that he still enjoys strong enthusiasm from his own party’s voters.
We cannot yet provide a complete assessment of turnout changes since the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March (as only three states have held contests, and two of those three had mail in voting well underway before the pandemic struck), but with the very limited data we have, it’s clear turnout has been impacted across the board:
In conclusion, this is truly a unique election cycle that has forced states to be flexible, both in terms of the scheduling of its primary election dates, as well as how it conducts its voting – vote by mail has been the obvious beneficiary of this pandemic, and it’s likely that states will at least consider this option (i.e. 100% vote by mail, which is the current system for five states) as a contingency for remaining primaries and/or for the November general election.