(Sorry, but once again, I better put a link for the book up top -- and it's also available to read for subscribers on Taegan Goddard's Political Wire).
Play the Numbers, Play the Odds, fourth time around:
I previously looked at what turnout can mean for the election. But now, we have actual hard turnout numbers to examine and we should look at what they mean.
5.16 million voters were reported to have cast their ballots as of Wednesday – over 23% of registered voters already voting. Democrats reportedly cast somewhere in the neighborhood of 54% of the ballots, with a close split between Republicans and NP/Others (Paul Mitchell from Political Data Inc. seems to have compiled this number, but I’m not going to focus on that info here. The one point to note is that Democrats are 46.5% of registered voters).
Since 2020 was the only election that so heavily used mail-in ballots, it must be our point of comparison – and we shall look at what that means. In 2020, with 10 days to go, 6.5 million votes were cast. Based on 2020 numbers, this seems like turnout for the recall is over performing what we should expect, which is exactly what Newsom should be rooting for, though there are still two big questions outstanding.
How is this overperforming? 2020 was a presidential election, when 80.67% of registered voters came out to vote. Turnout for a presidential year will always top turnout in a mid-term/gubernatorial one – with the exception of 1914 (perhaps this explains some of it?), no mid-term has topped the turnout of the presidential elections sandwiching it. Since 1912 (when the Secretary of State’s records start online), only once has turnout of registered voters for a presidential election dipped below 70% (1996, when turnout was 65.53%). No gubernatorial race has got that high since 1982. Since then, only three times have we seen more than 60% of registered voters come out in the mid-terms/gubernatorial elections – the big Republican blow out year of 1994 (60.45%), the recall in 2003 (61.20%) and Gavin Newsom’s victory in 2018 (64.54%).
What is the turnout difference that you can expect between a presidential race and a mid-term? It’s all over the place, from the relatively modest 16 points from 2018-2020 to the enormous 30+ point difference between 2012-2014-2016. (2014 had easily the lowest voter turnout among a regularly scheduled election – 42.20% of registered voters. Perhaps the fact that top two was introduced that year drove down the vote?).
It could be that by 10 days out, we will see close to or more than 6 million votes cast. That would be over 90% of the ballots reportedly cast in the 2020 election at that point according to the one story on the subject, which is a better “retention rate” than any election in recent memory (1994/1996 saw the current record of 87% rate).
One question is whether the turnout numbers will continue. We saw a big push of ballots at the end of the 2020 election. At the end of the day, 15.4 million of the 17.7 million votes were cast by mail. Currently, the ballots coming in for the recall seems to be leveling off, with somewhere over 400,000 coming in each day over the last few reporting periods. This frankly makes sense, as the people who were most interested in voting probably came out early. But if the 400,000 number keeps up, we would see over 10 million mail-in votes. As I’ve mentioned before, we have seen voter turnout go up for recalls of governors and big city mayors, though the fact that turnout was so high in 2018 may make this a challenge. With Election Day numbers, it is possible to get into the range, if not top, the 2018 numbers. Since Newsom did well with a big turnout, you would imagine that he would be in favor of this result.
The other big question is whether Democrats will benefit from mail-in ballots (again, I look at voter persuasion in the last post). Historically, Republicans were big users of mail-in ballots, but that changed in a hurry during the 2020 race. Could California Republicans be more comfortable with mail-ins than in other states? It is possible. Mail-in ballots saw a big jump in 2020, but in 2018, 65% of ballots were mail-in (obviously, that was also a good Democratic year). But what that could mean (though I kind of doubt it) is that we should limit the expected lead that Democrats have in mail-in.