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2010 Election: Beware of Hopes Driven by Turnout

Based on the anecdata I’m seeing, voter turnout is fairly high for a midterm election for the most part. (Not in New Orleans, where there’s a monsoon.) The conventional wisdom is that high turnout helps Democrats, and I’d be willing to grant that. But WHERE the turnout is coming from matters, too. For instance, elevated turnout in the Carolinas probably tracks with enthusiasm among conservatives. So does high turnout in Lehigh Valley, PA. Yes, it’s a blu-ish area of Pennsylvania, but that’s Pat Toomey’s old district. There’s a possibility that the longshot campaign of Bethlehem Dem mayor John Callahan, who’s running against GOP incumbent Charlie Dent, is driving this, but it’s not fully clear.

On the other hand, big turnout in Milwaukee could help Russ Feingold. Big turnout in Minnesota could help Mark Dayton in their gubernatorial race. Massive turnout in the urban areas of Kentucky could work for Jack Conway.

But, you could have a situation where the elevated turnout is elevated, even in Democratic areas, because of Republicans coming out of the woodwork to vote. An example: the final Field Poll in California predicted a respectable 55% turnout in the state. But while the registration advantage is 44-31 for Democrats, the expected split for turnout is 44-39. All of the elevated turnout is coming from Republicans.

And then there’s something like this, on the other hand:

Rep. Steve Kagen’s (D-Wis.) campaign manager e-mailed supporters to warn them that turnout numbers were flagging and that they needed more voters to make their way to the polls.

“We have just been going over the morning voting numbers — and turnout isn’t where we need it to be in our strong areas,” campaign manager Julie Heun wrote in an e-mail. “This race is going to be a squeaker — and every vote will count.”

I love speculating on turnout. But it’s more like trainspotting than anything, a hobby and not rigorous electoral analysis.

If you want to add to the voter turnout statistics, don’t forget to vote yourself.

UPDATE: The Sestak for Senate campaign is very happy about turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They believe they have narrowed the enthusiasm gap in the Keystone State.

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David Dayen

David Dayen