November 2016 Election: High Turnout, Ballot Drop-off an “X” Factor
More than 442,000 ballots are projected to be cast on Election Day
SAN DIEGO – On the eve of Election Day, Vince Vasquez, an independent elections analyst, projects a high turnout rate in San Diego County, and some potential surprises emerging in down ballot races due to “voter drop off.” Using election data from the Registrar of Voters and Political Data Inc., Vasquez evaluated the early ballots received for the November 8th presidential general election.
Overall, these were the major findings:
- Voter turnout will be high. Strong sustained interest in the presidential race, and soaring new voter registration suggests a higher voter turnout rate this election. While not reaching historic levels, turnout will fall within the range of recent presidential general elections (77%-84%). I project final total voter turnout in San Diego County this election to be in the range of 79-82%.
- Democratic voters lead the absentee ballot count. As of Sunday, November 6th, more Democratic mail-in ballots have been received than Republican ballots countywide (197,110 vs. 182,005, respectively). This partisan edge will grow as late mail-in ballots are received and poll ballots are cast on Election Day. Late voters have historically skewed more Democratic.
- Mail-in ballots will comprise more than 60% of votes cast overall. The 2012 presidential general election was the first presidential fall election in San Diego County where mail-in ballots comprised the majority (56%) of total ballots cast. Given the popularity of permanent absentee voting, I project that more than 60% of votes cast this election will be mail-in.
- Local races may be impacted by historic levels of voter ballot “drop off.” While strong early Democratic turnout suggests a “blue tide” this November, the dizzying number of complex state, county and local contests on the ballot this fall may cause a historic level of voter “drop off” – voters skipping down-ballot races. In most cases, this would result in a more even partisan balance of votes cast, particularly for local races. Older Democratic and Republican voters would comprise most of the votes cast, bringing a higher level of electoral scrutiny and skepticism. This would likely have the effect of more No votes for ballot measures, and more support for incumbents.
- Key races are in focus this November. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa has the edge in the 49th Congressional District race against Democratic challenger Doug Applegate. The dynamics of prior local races where Democratic challengers defeated Republican incumbents (Davis v. Bilbray 2000, Peters v. Bilbray 2012) have not emerged in the 49th. Polling and early voter returns reveal that Measure C, the Chargers’ initiative to raise hotel taxes in the City of San Diego to help fund a new downtown football stadium, is unlikely to obtain more than 50% of the vote. Other key races are rated tossups, such as the 3rd Supervisorial District race, and the City of San Diego District 9 race.
- More than 442,000 ballots will be cast on Election Day. Approximately 33-40% of ballots will be cast at polling locations on Election Day. Combined with mail-in ballots turned in to polling locations on Tuesday, the Election Day ballot tally will be more than 442,000.
“Voter turnout will be high this election cycle, and that’s mostly driven by sustained interest in the presidential race,” remarked Vince Vasquez, author of the election analysis. “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are by far the most polarizing, unlikable presidential candidates in modern history, and voters nationwide are strongly motivated to have their voices heard on which candidate they think is fit, and unfit, to be president. While Hillary Clinton maintains the edge, the election is volatile, and the latest polls suggest it has tightened in the final stretch. This has helped buoy voter participation locally.”
“In San Diego County, our local ballot this election cycle is extraordinarily long, and may prove to be intimidating and dissuading to many voters. Historically, its Democratic voters that have been more likely to only cast their vote for ‘big ticket’ races, like president, and skip the remaining races. This year, however, I think you’ll see more than just a large Democratic voter drop-off — I think you’ll probably also see lots of Independents and some Republicans not casting their vote in down-ballot races. This will probably skew the vote in local races to be more partisan, and far older than the electorate overall.”
“The resulting volatility may give us some surprises on Election Night. If it’s mostly older Democratic and Republican voters voting in down ticket races, there is likely to be a higher skepticism and scrutiny of candidates and ballot measures. That probably results in more No votes on local measures, and a higher deference to incumbents — with exceptions. Challengers and campaigns with sophisticated voter targeting techniques and sufficient financial resources may be able to overcome this phenomenon, or make their races closer than they otherwise would be.”
“In the Issa vs. Applegate match-up, the dynamics that have led to prior Democratic challengers beating Republicans incumbents didn’t emerge this election cycle. The three major elements for a successful congressional challenge are a quality candidate, money, and issues. Unlike former Assemblywoman Susan Davis and Port Commissioner Scott Peters, Applegate hasn’t run for office before, nor is he an office holder. The money raised by and for Applegate has been competitive for sure, however I don’t see any traction from compelling, broadly appealing issues that suggest voters want Issa removed from office. The 49th congressional district is firmly in a North County, Republican area; even with a recent surge in Democratic registration, Republicans retain a 25,000 registration edge in the district. Still, the San Diego County portion of the district is likely to be highly competitive, as it was in the June primary.”
“Measure C stood some chance to gain more than 50% of the vote, however I don’t see how that’s possible now – not against a funded, organized opposition. Polling has shown that support has hit a ceiling of about 40%, while opposition has soared. Neither political party supports the measure. They needed more political and community support, coming into the election cycle – and the efforts the build support this year were too little, too late, especially for such a costly, large-scale, controversial proposal.”
About Vince Vasquez
Vince Vasquez is an independent elections analyst based in Carlsbad. Since 2010, he has published reports of his data-driven election analysis and projections, covering the last twelve election cycles in San Diego County. Vasquez has been interviewed by numerous media outlets on elections and politics, including ABC News, and local television, radio and newspapers. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California – San Diego.