Dem turnout in primaries "falling off a cliff"

Earlier this morning, I scolded the AP for not taking the appropriate lesson from last night’s primaries in the three states.  Reid Wilson at Hotline has a much more accurate analysis of the voting pattern, and warns Democrats that their enthusiasm may be lower than even they feared:

Just 663K OH voters cast ballots in the competitive primary between LG Lee Fisher (D) and Sec/State Jennifer Brunner (D). That number is lower than the 872K voters who turned out in ’06, when neither Gov. Ted Strickland (D) nor Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) faced primary opponents.

Only 425K voters turned out to pick a nominee against Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). The 14.4% turnout was smaller than the 444K voters — or 18% of all registered Dem voters — who turned out in ’04, when Gov. Mike Easley (D) faced only a gadfly candidate in his bid to be renominated for a second term.

And in IN, just 204K Hoosiers voted for Dem House candidates, far fewer than the 357K who turned out in ’02 and the 304K who turned out in ’06.

By contrast, GOP turnout was up almost across the board. 373K people voted in Burr’s uncompetitive primary, nearly 9% higher than the 343K who voted in the equally non-competitive primary in ’04. Turnout in House races in IN rose 14.6% from ’06, fueled by the competitive Senate primary, which attracted 550K voters. And 728K voters cast ballots for a GOP Sec/State nominee in Ohio, the highest-ranking statewide election with a primary; in ’06, just 444K voters cast ballots in that race.

Public Policy Polling, a favorite pollster of Democrats, also warned about the turnout in North Carolina:

The turnout patterns in yesterday’s North Carolina primary election should have Democrats even more worried about what’s going to happen this fall than they were before.

In an election where there was a highly contested Democratic Senate primary and a Republican contest that was a foregone conclusion you would have expected Democratic turnout to far exceed that on the GOP side. But only 53% of the Senate primary votes were cast on the Democratic side to 47% on the Republican, a gap that’s smaller than the party registration difference in the state. …

What the turnout numbers do show is a disturbing lack of interest from Democratic voters. The 426,000 who cast a ballot in the Senate primary represents a 32% decline from the 628,000 who did in 2002, and this is despite the fact that after the 2008 election cycle there are more registered Democrats in the state than ever.

It’s a long way until the fall and maybe Democratic voters just care more about beating Republicans than choosing their party’s nominees but this is the first hard data we have on the comparative engagement of the two party’s voters in North Carolina and it does not bode well for Democrats.

The Tea Party movement is really just half of the story.  While Democrats can count on getting their most engaged voters to the polls in the midterms, they can no longer count on the occasional voter as they did in 2006 and especially in 2008.  After almost four years of Nancy Pelosi and sixteen months of Barack Obama, the country has dug itself into a huge deficit hole and a moribund economy.  The question is no longer who gets the blame for it, but whether Obama and the Democrats are the solution.  The lack of enthusiasm among Democrats show that the answer is increasingly no.

Democrats say that they plan to spend millions on GOTV efforts, but that again will only ensure a turnout of the true believers.  Right now, if the Democrats turned out independents, it probably would backfire on them as independents are skewing to the GOP.  Their best bet may be attempts to depress turnout through massive amounts of negative campaigning.  Fortunately, they have the right leaders in place for a “despair and status quo” follow-up to “hope and change.”