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June 27, 2022 11:06 am

What Does Voter Turnout Tell Us About November? Not Much

  • by: Colorado Pols
Voter turnout numbers in Colorado resemble 2018 more than 2020.

Political pundits often attempt to connect voter turnout numbers in a Primary Election as some sort of harbinger of things to come in a General Election. Most of the time there is little correlation between the two elections, and that is particularly true in 2022.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office released ballot return numbers on Friday indicating that Republican ballots are being returned in larger numbers than Democratic ballots. Should this trend continue through Tuesday evening, we’d expect some in the GOP to attempt to spin a narrative that Colorado Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting in 2022 than Democrats. There are two very significant problems with this story, however:

First off, the 2022 Primary Election in Colorado is very different than in years past. Republicans have contested races in three of the five major statewide races (U.S. Senate, Governor, Secretary of State) and in four Congressional districts (CO-03, CO-05, CO-07, and CO-08). Democrats, meanwhile, have NO contested statewide races and a competitive Primary in only one Congressional district (CO-03). For many Democratic voters, there are no races on their ballots for which a choice is even available. There’s little incentive for Democrats to even bother submitting ballots when there is nothing to be decided.

The second issue that is skewing ballot return numbers involves Unaffiliated voters. As Colorado Newsline explains:

This year’s preliminary ballot-return data shows that unaffiliated voters are largely responsible for the GOP’s turnout edge so far. Nearly 30% of the Republican primary ballots returned as of June 24 were cast by voters not affiliated with any party — double the number reported at the same point prior to the state’s previous midterm primary election in 2018. [Pols emphasis] Colorado law allows the state’s 1.7 million unaffiliated voters — a larger group than either its 1.1 million active registered Democrats or its 956,904 registered Republicans — to vote in either party’s primary election in a given year, but not both.

In other words, more voters are casting Republican ballots in the Primary Election — but that’s not an indication that Republican voters are more enthusiastic about participating in this year’s elections.

Primary Election turnout is generally not all that indicative of what might happen in November anyway, but this is particularly true in 2022. To borrow a quote often attributed to Sigmund Freud, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”


6 thoughts on “What Does Voter Turnout Tell Us About November? Not Much

  1. Well it also means whoever loses will claim that "unaffiliated" voters stole the primary.

    They fought to exclude others so they could blame them Wednesday.

  2. In 2018, both parties had contested statewide primaries and almost 539,000 people voted.

    This time, only the GOP has any contested statewide primaries and so far, almost 578,000 have voted.

    1. "In 2018, both parties had contested statewide primaries and almost 539,000 people voted.

      This time, only the GOP has any contested statewide primaries and so far, almost 578,000 have voted."

      The big difference this year are the number of federal races being contested at the primary level. In 2018, there was no US Senate race, and I don't think any of the Congress seats were seriously challenged in primaries.

      In 2022, the GOP has a US Senate primary, there are 2 open Congress seats (7 & 8), one of which is touted as the most competitive in the nation, and there is a serious challenge to an incumbent (CD3) (some might say CD5 is a serious challenge, but I'm skeptical). 

      So it is not surprising numbers are up over 2018. However, notably, in the heavy Dem areas, the numbers are actually very low due to very few, if any, contested races. Denver is heading for its lowest turnout percentage in decades, unless everyone shows up tomorrow. And that is even with a heavily contested State House seat (HD6).

  3. Worth noting — CO-3 is a bit different this year.  

    State Primary Ballots Returned: June 27, 2022


    Statewide #……………….. 77,337 .. .. .101,175

    Statewide %……………. .. .43.32%. …… 56.68%

    Statewide # w/o CO3 …..70,834………77,089

    Statewide % w/o CO3…. 47.89%………52.11%

    CO-3 #. ……………………. .6,503……….24,086

    CO-3 %. …………………. .21.26%. ……..78.74%


    1. CO-3 #. ……………………. .6,503……….24,086

      CO-3 %. …………………. .21.26%. ……..78.74%

      Both sides have contested primaries in CD 3 but almost 80% of the votes are being cast in the GOP primary.

      Two ways to look at it: (1) a lot of folks are temporarily aligning with the GOP to vote against She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Mentioned-By-Name, or (2) the Party of the Elephant is more excited and motivated this election cycle.

      Hope it's #1 bur fear it's #2. 

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