Our Take on the August 2019 Partisan Primary
We’ve read a number of commentaries about the significance of the GOP primary being larger than the Democratic primary for the first time ever. That is indeed a milestone. In this report, we explain why this change occurs.
But first, we note another important development masked by the overall turnout numbers:
Democratic primary turnout in the governor’s race surged in the state’s 15 largest counties, up 39% compared to 2015 in spite of there being few competitive primaries at the top of the ticket on the Democratic side.
Nearly four in 10 New GOP Voters came from NE MS where local courthouses flipped to mostly Republican Primaries 93,000 more voters participated in the Republican gubernatorial primary than did four years ago. However, 38% of that growth came in 12 northeastern counties, most of which saw their local elected officials flip from the Democratic to the Republican Party between 2015 and 2019.
In 2015, 75% of primary ballots were cast in the Democratic primary in these 12 counties, but the Democratic nominee for governor only got 23% of the vote here in the general. So the fact that 67% of primary votes this year were cast in the Republican race is not so much a mass defection from the party as it was Republican voters finally going home.
Home Town GOP Candidate Impact. Another 12% of the GOP primary growth came in the three main counties of Metro Jackson. The three main reasons for this were 1) two hometown boys (Waller in Hinds and Reeves in Rankin) in the Republican governor’s race, 2) population growth in Rankin and Madison, and 3) (we believe) Democratic primary voters voting in the Republican race to vote against Reeves. In spite of the Republican primary growing by over 11,000 votes in these three counties, the Democratic primary actually grew more, growing by about 12,000 votes.
Overall, while most of the state got more Republican, there was actually less movement to the Republicans than one might have expected, given the partisan lean of the state; the competitiveness of the Republican primaries for governor, attorney general, etc.; and the dearth of competitive primaries on the Democratic side. The maps below show the change from 2015 to 2019 in Democratic primary participation as a percentage of the whole.