On Tuesday Massachusetts held their midterm primaries, with six of nine congressional districts in the state featuring Democratic incumbents facing primary challengers, a 3 person race in the GOP Senate primary, and Governor Charlie Baker facing a challenge from evangelical leader Scott Lively in the GOP Gubernatorial primary. Two Democratic primaries were being heavily watched throughout Massachusetts and the rest of the country. Primaries in the 3rd & 7th congressional districts were viewed by many as influential in the future of the House of Representatives. The 3rd district is one currently held by Nikki Tsongas who will be retiring at the end of her term this year, and the primary featured 10 Democratic candidates squaring off for to replace her. Lowell businesswoman Lori Trahan would go on to win that primary by 252 votes. In the 7th district, Mike Capuano, a 20 year member of the House of Representatives faced off against progressive Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, a race Pressley would win in a shocking upset.
Despite these two important races, along with four others around the state, Democratic turnout wasn’t impressive in Tuesday’s primary. In fact, it only narrowly missed matching the last midterm primary turnout in 2014 when only two of nine incumbents faced primary challengers. In 2014 the Democratic turnout in the primary elections was only 37%, on Tuesday it was 36%. An important thing to take note of is that the six districts where there were multiple Democrats on the ballot this year, account for 69% of the state’s total Democratic voter base, and combined these districts only saw a 44% turnout rate. In the three districts which saw no primary challengers to the Democratic incumbents, turnout was an abysmal 19%. When we break these numbers down even further, we see that in four of the nine congressional districts, there are no Republican challengers in November. In these four congressional districts, Democratic turnout was only 42%. With these four districts all but wrapped up in the primary, and a popular Republican governor, turnout numbers may actually decrease around most of the state in the general election for the Democrats.
On the other side of the primaries, Republican turnout saw a 24% increase from 2014, with 58% of Republicans turning out to vote, despite only two congressional districts having primaries, along with Governor Baker squaring off in an easy primary challenge with Scott Lively, and a race for the GOP Senate nomination featuring 3 candidates with low name recognition. The two districts featuring Republican races only accounted for 16% of all Republican turnout, compared to the Democratic numbers where the districts which had multiple Democrats on the ballot accounted for 84% of all Democratic turnout. These numbers show a glaring difference in the will to vote between Democrats and Republicans in Massachusetts. While Republicans are willing to vote whether there are local races that affect them or not, Democrats only appear willing to vote when there are races that will affect them locally.
Breaking the turnout numbers down by county makes them look even worse for Democrats heading into the general election in November. For the most part, the heavily Democratic counties in Massachusetts showed better numbers at the polls, the other more centrist counties, not so much. The turnout around the state for Democrats and Republicans looked like this
- Barnstable County: Democrat turnout 43%, Republican turnout 78%
- Berkshire County: Democrat turnout 50%, Republican turnout 37%
- Bristol County: Democrat turnout 19%, Republican turnout 47%
- Dukes County: Democrat turnout 56%, Republican turnout 53%
- Essex County: Democrat turnout 34%, Republican turnout 61%
- Franklin County: Democrat turnout 66%, Republican turnout 57%
- Hampden County: Democrat turnout 21%, Republican turnout 40%
- Hampshire County: Democrat turnout 57%, Republican turnout 54%
- Middlesex County: Democrat turnout 47%, Republican turnout 62%
- Nantucket County: Democrat turnout 26%, Republican turnout 31%
- Norfolk County: Democrat turnout 37%, Republican turnout 66%
- Plymouth County: Democrat turnout 32%, Republican turnout 72%
- Suffolk County: Democrat turnout 33%, Republican turnout 35%
- Worcester County: Democrat turnout 28%, Republican turnout 59%
In almost every county, except for the heavily Democratic western part of Massachusetts, Republicans had a higher percentage turnout than Democrats. The three counties on the south shore which are seen mostly as centrist (Bristol, Norfolk, Plymouth) saw big differences in voter turnout, as did the centrist Essex count north of Boston. The big differences seen in primary turnout may be a prelude to a shift in these four counties during the general election, and may spell trouble for the Democrats running in statewide elections. Almost all across the board turnout numbers were bad for Democrats, and with more independents expected to vote in the general election than the primary, Democrats may have uphill battles in multiple congressional districts and in the senate race.