WASHINGTON — For months now, enthusiasm among Democratic voters has been a dominant 2018 theme in polls and interviews. Now that the primaries are over, a look at the total primary vote in U.S. House races this year shows that the chatter is more than just talk.
Democrats have been turning out in record numbers this year, and midterm history suggests that could have real significance in November.
In the most basic sense, the numbers show the difference in enthusiasm between 2018 and the last midterm election in 2014. There have been increases in turnout for both of the major political parties in this year’s House primaries, but the number for Democrats has skyrocketed.
In 2018, Republican House primaries produced about 24 percent more votes than they did in 2014. But Democratic House primaries in 2018 produced 89 percent more votes than they did four years ago, based on an analysis of the vote by Pew Research and the Data Download team.
That’s nearly a doubling in the number Democratic House votes this year, and it’s enough to give Democrats a big lead over Republicans in votes this year. In total, 4.3 million more Democrats voted in House primaries this year than Republicans.
What kind of meaning might that have for the midterms this fall? Consider 1998 and 2006.
In both those races Democratic voters turned out for their House primaries and in November the party reaped the rewards.
The edge was small in 1998, about 1.3 million more Democrats than Republicans voted, and in the general election, the Democrats gained five seats in the House. Democrats had a bigger 3-million vote edge in the primaries of 2006 and in the fall the party gained 30 seats in the House — plus six seats in the Senate — on their way to capturing both chambers of Congress.
Using the House primary vote as a metric reveals a similar correlation for Republicans.