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GOP turnout jumps in Kentucky

More ballots were cast in yesterday's Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Kentucky than in the Republican, but the total number of votes cast masks a stunning turnaround in the state's historical turnout patterns.

Several bloggers (see examples here, here and here) have argued that Rand Paul's easy victory in the Republican primary may not mean much come November given the lower number of voters in the Republican contest. But such an analysis overlooks essential historical context. (Some also miss the critical fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by about 600,000 voters.)

According to data from Kentucky's Board of Elections, in no state primary going back to 1982 did Republican turnout top Democratic turnout, until this year.

At last update, 34 percent of registered Republicans and 32 percent of registered Democrats cast ballots yesterday. In contrast, in primaries since 1982, Democratic turnout has outpaced Republican turnout by an average 10 percentage points, with the narrowest Democratic advantage standing at 2.5 percentage points in the 2007 gubernatorial primaries. The largest gap was a whopping 29 percentage points in 1983.

Of course, the Democrats' edge in primary vote turnout hasn't always turned into an advantage in November, so this result doesn't translate directly into an edge for the Republicans this time, but it is a sharp deviation from nearly 30 years of voting statistics.

Kentucky primary election turnout % by party registration:

       Dem.   Rep.  D-R
2010   31.8   33.6  -1.8
2008   43.5   19.7  23.8
2007   22.4   19.9   2.5
2006   36.4   28.0   8.4
2004   16.0   13.2   2.8
2003   18.8   17.2   1.6
2002   37.0   28.7   8.3
2000   16.8   12.0   4.8
1999    7.9    4.8   3.1
1998   43.5   33.9   9.6
1996   21.2   15.7   5.5
1995   24.5   18.0   6.5
1994   17.8   12.9   4.9
1993   47.5   33.9  13.6
1992   31.0   19.0  12.0
1991   40.1   29.7  10.4
1990   27.3   14.7  12.6
1989   48.5   32.8  15.7
1988   25.7   12.2  13.5
1987   48.4   21.5  26.9
1986   18.6   12.2   6.4
1985   51.8   35.4  16.4
1984   21.3   12.0   9.3
1983   52.1   22.9  29.2
1982   15.8   12.6   3.2

SOURCE: Kentucky State Board of Elections

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  May 19, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Voting  
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What in the world are you talking about? Kentucky has had 2 GOP senators forever. Ann Northrop and a gaggle of Clinton baiters have served the House for years.

Numbers are numbers; R Paul may wind up in the Senate but they are going to have to turn out more voters and hold those Republicans who may not be all that crazy about the Tea Party approach.

You are writing blogs to mesh w/ your headlines.

Posted by: bikobiko | May 19, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

This article offers some very odd logic...the bottom line on all the number manipulating is that MORE voters voted in the Democratic Primary than voted in the GOP primary...that fact pretty well got lost in the little rows of % going back to the 1980s. Mr. Paul will be a difficult sell in November to a lot of moderate and even more conservative voters, who will soon learn that there is nothing "conservative" about many of his radical views. And perhaps the writer of the column imagines that all the disgruntled Mongiardo voters will go for Paul over Jack Conway? Not likely.

Posted by: taylorb1 | May 19, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of overlooking historical context, primary election turnout is probably influenced by whether the top race on the ballot is being contested. Given that McConnell has been in the senate since the 80's IRC wouldn't that dampen republican turnout in many of those years?

Posted by: Rico3 | May 20, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

This is a very poorly written article. Somehow, a larger turnout for the Democratic primary is an advantage for the GOP..Huh?

In any case, Rand Paul is already in trouble. He can't hide from the voters until November as much as the GOP bosses would like him to. As voters learn more about his nutty Libertarian ideas, his star will fade. How wonderful it would be if Kentucky elected a Democratic senator for the first time in a thousand years. Mitch McConnell would wet himself.

Posted by: purplepatriot | May 24, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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