Thursday, May 19, 2022

One Thing is Not a Trend

As I often do when discussing campaign/election stuff, I'm going to riff on Dave Weigel's excellent WaPo campaign/election newsletter, The Trailer. You really should subscribe if campaign/election stuff is your thing

As I don't often do, I'm going to dispute something in it -- the title of this edition: "Four trends from Tuesday's primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and elsewhere."

A set of data points on one election is not a "trend" that tells us much about the next election.

One of the "trends" that Weigel mentions is: "Turnout was up for both parties -- especially for Republicans."

What does that tell us about how turnout will look in the general election?

Not necessarily anything.

As Harry Enten noted in a 2016 article at FiveThirtyEight (which also happens to be an exception that proves the rule kind of thing), primary turnout is not, for the most part, predictive of general election turnout.

In fact, I suspect that high primary turnout for a particular party can, in at least some cases, be predictive of lower turnout for that same party in the general election.

Why was Republican turnout so high in Pennsylvania on Tuesday?

Because there were hotly contested races between warring factions of the Republican Party -- Trumpists who agreed with Trump's endorsements, Trumpists who thought Trump's endorsements weren't Trumpy enough, and non-Trumpists.

Once the votes are all in, not all Republican primary voters are going to be happy.

Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz is in a recount-close standoff with non-Trump-endorsed David McCormick at about 31% each.

Two other "Trumpier than Oz but not Trump-endorsed" candidates knocked down a combined 30% (24.7% for Kathy Barnette, 5.4% for Carla Sands).

If McCormick wins, it's not obvious that supporters of Oz, Barnette, or Sands will be especially inclined to get off the couch and vote in November -- or, if they do, that they won't choose Democratic nominee John Fetterman, who has some of the "populist fighter" mojo that seems to attract a sub-set of Trumpists.

If Oz wins, it's not obvious that he'll get enthusiasm from McCormick's supporters --or, for that matter, Barnette's and Sands's.

Meanwhile, while Democratic turnout wasn't up as much as Republican turnout, Fetterman knocked down a solid win, and has a clear deck to campaign as the front-runner while Republicans won't even know who their nominee is for a little while.

And Fetterman has a second  advantage: Doug Mastriano, the GOP's nominee for governor. Mastriano is the Trumpiest of the Trumpy, so no matter how the Senate primary comes out, Pennsylvania's general election will be a referendum on Donald Trump rather than on Joe Biden. And so far, whenever there's a referendum on Donald Trump, Donald Trump or his proxies receive an ass-whipping.

The last time I called an election six months out was when I predicted that Donald Trump would win the White House in 2016.

There's one, and only one, reason I'm not calling Pennsylvania for Fetterman right now: His health. He suffered a stroke the weekend before the primary, and while we got the usual "full recovery expected" message from him and his campaign, and in a fairly convincing way, it seems like the kind of thing to watch and wait on a bit.

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