OK, so let me start by admitting I was wrong. About what, you ask? Well, along with virtually every other pundit in the state, we here at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll expected turnout in the special Senate primary to be abysmal, if even that. The primary was being held with little lead time, in the middle of August, when everyone it seems is down the shore. Moreover, both Republicans and Democrats appeared to have essentially uncompetitive races. And of course, turnout in primaries is generally low anyway. All of this combined to assure us that we’d see record low turnout.
Well, mea culpa. Though I suppose we were half right. Republican turnout looks to have been about 130,000 voters out of around 1.085 million registered Republicans, or about 12%. That’s pretty bad, by any standard. Democrats, though, nearly doubled this, with more than 350,000 showing up to vote, out of just under 1.8 million, or right around 20%. Now 20% might not seem like much, but it is a far cry from the anticipated “no one will vote” story.
The winners were Steve Lonegan, with 79% of the vote (with 98% of precincts reporting,) and Cory Booker with 59%. In both cases, the winners out performed the few polls that were out, but to be fair, Quinnipiac’s last poll was pretty close on both sides. For the Democrats, whether it’s that the 9% “undecideds” in that poll went more for Booker than any other candidate or that (more likely in my mind) undecideds didn’t actually show up and Booker had a better turnout operation than the others, Quinnipiac did a good job of what we thought would be a very difficult task: identifying likely voters. Also, the Monmouth poll done earlier suggested in their likely voter screen that turnout could range between 200,000 and 400,000 Democrats – with that high end seeming pretty unlikely. Yet, in fact, Democratic turnout was closer to the high than the low end.
We had decided not to poll because we were very uncertain about our likely voter model in this context; apparently the primary voters who turned out looked a lot like any likely primary voters, despite the oddity of an August primary. Most likely this is due as much to Cory Booker’s ground operation as the support for Frank Pallone and Rush Holt within their own Congressional Districts (both appear to have basically won their district.) [correction: the Star Ledger reported on Aug. 15 that Booker appears to have narrowly won in Holt's district while Pallone did indeed win his.]
This morning, I did a quick and dirty look at Democratic turnout by county. Some interesting results: (All Senate election and turnout numbers from http://project.wnyc.org/election2013. Registered voter numbers come from the state Board of Elections.)
Top 5 counties: Mercer, 26%; Monmouth, 25%; Essex, 23%; Hunterdon, 23; Somerset, 23%.
Of these, Holt won 2 (Mercer and Hunterdon) and Pallone won one (Monmouth). Booker handily won Essex with 67% and got 53% in Somerset. The problem for both Pallone and Holt is that they won (or did best in) counties with many fewer Democrats than Booker, who, not surprisingly won overwhelmingly in the Democrat-rich counties of Essex, Bergen, and Hudson, even though turnout in the latter two was at or below the state average. Booker didn’t need a massive turnout percentage there to win, just lots of votes. Essex itself, for example, has more Democrats than Mercer and Monmouth combined.
Some other interesting things that reinforce the local aspect of politics. First, Middlesex, with about the same number of Democrats as Bergen (both about 50,000 Democrats behind Essex) had 22% turnout, but a true three-way race, with Booker at 38%, Pallone at 33% and Holt at 25%. Of course both Pallone and Holt both represent parts of Middlesex, accounting for their much stronger showing than in most of the rest of the state.
Booker got less than 50% in only 6 counties: Warren, Ocean, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Hunterdon. Of these Pallone represents parts of Monmouth and Middlesex, and Holt has parts of Mercer, Middlesex and Hunterdon. Where they knew them, voters preferred Pallone or Holt, otherwise Booker’s wider recognition and celebrity status no doubt played a role in burying both Congressmen.
Also, for all the early news reports of “vote by mail” efforts in Camden county supposedly orchestrated by the Booker campaign, Camden turnout was the lowest in the state, at 11.3% with just over 15,000 reported Democratic votes. However, as of this writing, voters are reported from only 82% of precincts (compared to 98% of the state) so the numbers in Camden are no doubt higher, but will still most likely put it in the bottom 5 of turnout. But what Camden really has in common with other southern counties is that all of the candidates came from central or north Jersey. And for the most part, the turnout percentages reflect that.
Bottom 5 counties: Camden, 11%; Gloucester, 12%; Salem, 13%; Cumberland, 13%; Warren, 14%/
Where the candidates live, and are better known, voters were simply much more likely to show up. No great surprise, perhaps, but interesting none the less.
So on to the special Senate general election on Wednesday October 16. Given the primary turnout, perhaps we should be more upbeat about turnout for that election. On the other hand, if the initial polling is right (and we suspect it is) then this will be a snoozer of a race, with Booker handily beating Lonegan. Doesn’t mean the campaign won’t be interesting; with Lonegan in it, it is likely to have at least some fireworks. But turnout for October? Who knows. But regardless, Rutgers-Eagleton will be polling this one, with out first poll on the race due out in early September. Watch for it!