Conflicting News about Primary Turnout


We only have the first two states under our belts, and they’re not terribly representative of the nation as a whole, but it’s what we have right now. So what do we know about turnout?


Turnout was disappointing this year in Iowa. In 2016, turnout was 171,517 and only a touch over 176,000 showed up this year. This is way off the high water mark which was in 2008, in the lead up to President Obama’s first election, when 239,000 showed up.

There are various explanations as to what might have happened. A concern is that the cynicism that Trump propagates affected voters. A more hopeful outlook is that there were a lot of “undecided” voters who fall into the “I’ll vote for whoever the nominee is” camp.

New Hampshire

We have a completely different result in New Hampshire. In 2016, turnout was 254,780 and this year, it had hit 287,594 with 18 small towns left to count. (The total votes in 2008 was 287,557, so we’ve already passed that mark.)

On the downside, although the overall count is higher, the percentage of eligible voters casting a vote dropped from 29% to 26% (that’s 2020 compared to 2008).

Delegate Count

We’ve only awarded 65 delegates so far. Candidates need 1,991 delegates to secure their nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention. NBC News has a good delegate tracker HERE.

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4 replies

  1. Question: How did the delegate count go from 13 Pete 12 Bernie after Iowa, to 23 Pete 21 Bernie after NH, when Bernie won the overall vote count in NH?

    • New Hampshire awards their delegates in proportion to the percentage of the primary vote each candidate wins in each district. Although I don’t have district-level data, overall Bernie won 25.6% of the vote and Pete was right behind him with 24.3% of the vote. They each won 9 delegates.

  2. I’d like to reiterate two points I made in a previous post:

    1) Voter turnout in elections (e.g. New Hampshire) is extremely relevant to the strength of democracy, and it is particularly relevant to the Democratic Party in the U.S. for several circumstantial reasons. However, voter turnout is much less relevant in caucuses (e.g. Iowa) where citizens must actively participate far beyond simply casting a ballot.

    2) 2008 was an anomalous presidential election year because Americans were consumed with the Financial Crisis and Great Recession. This greatly benefited the opposition party (i.e. Democrats), and it made the incumbent party’s (i.e. Republicans) chances for keeping control of the White House virtually impossible. The 2020 election is also a historical anomaly but for very different reasons. This year, there is no economic crisis, but there is an intensely partisan political crisis which has been brewing within the country’s culture for decades and which was deliberately brought to the surface by a rogue president. 2020 will be first and foremost a national referendum on Donald Trump. While the numbers are still critically important, the dynamics of voter turnout are very different now compared to 2008. Back then, many Republicans bailed on the GOP on election day. Today, Republicans are fanatically behind Trump.

    If we have a fair election in November uncorrupted by foreign and/or domestic interference, the current dynamics of voter turnout strongly favor the eventual Democratic candidate whoever that is. Trump is widely unpopular outside of his base, and those who oppose him – including a big chunk of Independents – are highly energized.

    • I agree with many of your points. I am seeing a dip in enthusiasm based on the turnout models from the midterms, but it’s hard to compare apples to oranges, so I stuck with the presidential elections.

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