Getting it Wrong...and Right
Predicting turnout and winners for the August 12, 2014 Minnesota primaries is complicated. Four years ago when Minnesota held its first August primary I predicted a 12% voter turnout. This estimate was premised upon two factors. First, a general downturn since 1982 in primary turnout and a trend from other states of a decrease of 2% when switching from a post to a pre Labor Day primary. I was wrong! The 2010 turnout was 15.94%–an approximate 2% jump in turnout. I should have anticipated that given the closely contested DFL gubernatorial primary involving Margaret Anderson Kelleher, Matt Entenza, and Mark Dayton. That race also featured significant political spending. Couple a closely-contested race with big money and voter turnout should go up.
Table I: Minnesota Primary Turnout: 1982-2010 (Gubernatorial Years)
Year Turnout Contested?
1982 31.08% Yes
1986 25.69% Yes
1990 24.28% Yes
1994 27.17% Yes
1998 19.79% Yes
2002 14.93% Yes
2006 13.8% Yes
2010 15.94% Yes
Predicting 2014 Turnout
Given what I learned from 2010, what is my prediction for the 2014 primary turnout?
The prediction for turnout in the 2014 primary can be expressed as an equation:
T= C +$ +A + P
T = August 12, turnout
C = Contested election
$ = Money spent by candidates, parties, and political organizations to encourage turnout
A= No excuses absentee voting
P = Party turnout
Let me explain each variable. Contested election refers to whether there is a seriously contested statewide election on the ballot that should drive turnout. In 2014 there are at least two such races. The first is the Republican gubernatorial election featuring Jeff Johnson, Kurt Zellers, Marty Seifert, and Scott Honour in a close race. The second race is the DFL primary for state auditor between Rebecca Otto and Matt Entenza. Both races will ensure that party regulars will be excited about these elections, that the candidates are working hard to get out the vote, and that the potential closeness of these elections will entice voters to cast ballots. On balance, I would argue that the level of contestation here is not as high as 2010, thereby suggesting a slight decrease in turnout in comparison.
Money spent refers to amount of money spent by candidates, parties, and political organizations on advertising, voter mobilization, phone banks, and get out the vote to encourage turnout. Here again one can anticipate that several candidates, such as Scott Honour and Matt Entenza will spend significant amounts of their own money to support their campaigns and that in turn will force their opponents to also spend more money. Of course, not all spending will be directed toward voter mobilization, but in general the more money spent the greater the turnout. Here less money is being spent compared to 2010, again suggesting a lower turnout.
No excuses absentee balloting refers to how the change in laws affecting early or absentee voting will impact voter turnout. By that, in general no excuse voter turnout has lead to more people across the country voting before election day and there is also some evidence that it has increased turnout. The issue here for the August 12, primary is to ask whether this new law will lead to an increase in turnout or simply to a shift in more voters casting ballots before election day. Assume no excuses absentee turnout slightly increases turnout from 2010.
Finally, party turnout refers to which party or parties have a more competitive turnout. The DFL generally enjoys a greater percentage of the population voting in their primary as opposed to the Republicans. This reflects the fact that more people in the state consider themselves Democrats than Republicans. In 2010 74% of the primary voters for governor voted DFL. This high turnout was in part due to a close DFL race and an almost pro forma GOP primary. In most years the DFL share of the primary vote is lower than this. Given that there are close statewide races for both parties, my estimate is that about 60-65% will vote DFL and the remainder Republican. Even though the DFL State Auditor’s race is contested and will drive turnout for that party, it is not generating the same excitement as a governor’s race. Thus, the main race driving the 2014 primary is the GOP gubernatorial race. Given that, I anticipate a slight decrease in enrollment.
Taking all of the variables together, what can we predict? As of May 1, 2014, the Minnesota Secretary of State estimates the total number of registered voters in Minnesota is approximately 3,116,899. My estimate is a turnout of 14% or 436,000 voters. Of those, the estimate is that 275,000 will vote in the DFL primary and 161,000 in the GOP primary.
Winners and Losers
One final prediction: In the Republican gubernatorial primary I am estimating that the winner will receive approximately 35% of the vote. If that is correct, it will take about 57,000 votes to win the Republican gubernatorial primary. Put in perspective, the winner will receive approximately 2% of the vote in the state. This proves that every vote counts. If I had to make a prediction I would argue that the GOP primary is between Jeff Johnson and Kurt Zellers. This pits party endorsement and resources against name recognition. This is too close to call but the guess goes to Johnson. In the Otto-Entenza race, party mobilization for Otto and backlash against Entenza should help her win.
Finally, a note of caution: I have note described the race between and Mike McFadden and Jim Abler as a contested one. But after what happened to Eric Cantor in Virginia complacency is a clear vice to avoid. Jim Abler is the underdog but he has the endorsements of the Star Tribune, Governor Al Quie, and Senator Durenburger. If I had to pick one possible upset this is it.
Come August 13, we shall see how wrong I am!