Primary election turnout is up for GOP, down for Dems from 2008

By Eric DuVall  |  March 16, 2016 at 2:03 PM
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The math doesn't lie: Much like the historic primary in 2008 between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, this year's Republican presidential primary is driving a significant increase in voter turnout.

For Republicans, call it the Trump Effect -- a controversial candidate driving voters to the polls whether they're for or against him. And for the Democrats, the lagging turnout is probably a reflection that 2008's marathon race between Clinton and Obama was high tide -- and this year, voters realize Clinton is the prohibitive favorite and do not feel the urgency to turn out for their candidate as much as they did eight years ago.

Five states, all relatively large ones in terms of population, voted Tuesday: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri. While those states fell at different spots on the primary calendar in 2008, in each one voter turnout was down from eight years ago for Democrats. It was up in four of the five for Republicans this time around.

The turnout numbers were most pronounced in Ohio, where about 900,000 more people -- nearly twice as many as eight years ago -- turned out to vote in Tuesday's GOP primary. Those voters handed a victory to home-state candidate Gov. John Kasich, whose presence on the ballot in a must-win moment for his campaign certainly had an impact.

On the Democratic side, turnout was much lower this time around than eight years ago, when Clinton defeated Obama there. In 2008, 2.35 million people voted in the Ohio Democratic primary, compared with about 1.6 million on Tuesday.

In Florida, about the same number of Democrats voted this year as did in 2008, but Republican turnout was up by nearly 300,000 voters.

Part of the phenomenon could be due to so-called primary shopping among voters. Four of the five races were open primaries, which allowed independents and members of other parties to cast ballots in whatever race they wanted. Given the more intense media coverage of Trump's campaign, more voters may have been lured to the GOP side in the primary this year, whereas the Clinton-Obama race in 2008 was the bigger draw.

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