Republican voter turnout far outpaces Democrat turnout in 2024 primaries

2 months 1 week 4 days ago Wednesday, March 06 2024 Mar 6, 2024 March 06, 2024 6:26 PM March 06, 2024 in Election Coverage
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
A 'vote here' sign is located inside of the Travis County Civil and Family Courts Facility on Mar. 1, 2024. Credit: Maria Crane/The Texas Tribune

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About 3.2 million Texans cast a ballot in the 2024 Texas primaries, with Republicans far outpacing their Democratic counterparts.

Republicans cast 2.3 million ballots on a ticket led by former President Donald Trump, and Democrats cast about 975,000 ballots, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office. That marks a significant drop from the 2020 primary election, when more than 4 million Texans voted, and turnout among Democratic voters surpassed Republican turnout.

This year’s drop in turnout came despite an uptick in the overall number of registered voters in Texas since 2020. Democratic turnout accounted for the entirety of the decline — Republican participation increased slightly compared to 2020 but not by not enough to counter the sharp decrease in votes cast in the Democratic primary.

One possible reason: The top of the ticket in the Democracy primary was much less competitive in 2024. Four years ago, Joe Biden used Super Tuesday to surge to the top of the hotly contested presidential primary and clear the path to the nomination.

Voters across all 254 counties again chose Democratic and Republican nominees for the presidential election, but there was little drama in those races. Voters also picked nominees for representatives in Congress and the Texas Legislature. Lower-level judges and county offices were also on the ballot.

A small majority of votes came through mail-in voting and during the early voting period, which ran from Feb. 20 to March 1. About 10% of registered voters, or 1.8 million people, cast a ballot during early voting. That’s 200,000 fewer votes compared to early voting in the 2020 primary, where 12.6% of registered voters participated early.

The decline in voter turnout was most pronounced in the state’s most populous, urban counties of Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis, where only 13.9% of voters turned out compared to 24% in 2020. Similar declines occurred in the state’s border counties as well as in the fast growing suburbs of Tarrant, Fort Bend, Collin, Denton, Hays and Williamson counties.

Turnout in the 216 mostly rural counties that historically vote strongly Republican had the smallest dip in participation rates, about 4.1 percentage points.

“I think there is less enthusiasm for the big matchup in 2024,” which is almost certain to be between former president Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “We’ve been there, done that, and I think a lot of voters are kind of sitting on the sidelines until things change.”

Rottinghaus said he was not surprised to see stable turnout in red counties, where Republican contests have drawn considerable attention and funding as Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton each seek revenge after an eventful legislative session. Paxton is fighting to unseat the House Republicans who voted to impeach him, while Abbott has publicly targeted Republicans who opposed school vouchers in last year’s legislative sessions.

Democrats did have a competitive statewide race that determined who will challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November. But some voters may have written that race off because the U.S. Rep. Colin Allred significantly outraised his Democratic Senate primary opponents, including state Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio, Rottinghaus said. Allred easily defeated Gutierrez on Tuesday.

“It’s a kiss of death for voter turnout when people see elections as being not competitive,” he said.

Voter turnout also tends to be lower among younger cohorts, and Texas has one of the youngest populations in the country. The median Texan is 35.5 years old, compared to the national median of 38.9, according to a 2023 U.S. Census report.

Only about 75,000 people under the age of 30 voted early this year, roughly equivalent to the number of people ages 85 and older who voted early, according to a report by Derek Ryan, a political consultant. (Election day numbers broken down by age are not yet available.)

Texas has experienced significant population growth in recent years, contributing to an overall increase in the number of registered voters. The population grew by 4% from January 2020 to January 2023, the majority of which was driven by migration, not new births. That growth did not necessarily translate into more early voters, though.

Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University who has studied voting behavior, said this may be because candidates don’t usually target new residents, whose voter history may be unknown to them.

“What really motivates people to vote is someone asking them to vote,” Stein said. “Candidates may not want to turn out those registered voters because they don't know much about them — they don't know where they came from, they don't know how they voted, we don't have party registration.”

The early voting tally includes those who voted by mail. Mailed ballots accounted for 6.3% of early votes this year, a decline from 2020 when they made up roughly 10% of votes. In 2021, Texas added new requirements to voting by mail. The new law required voters to provide their driver’s license number or part of their Social Security number on their ballot application. In Texas, the only people eligible to vote bail mail are 65 or older, confined to jail, expected to give birth within three weeks of Election Day, are sick or disabled or expect to be absent from their home county for the entire voting period.

The new law, among other changes to voting requirements, can confuse voters and contribute to low turnout, Stein said.

“Even the most frequent and hardy voters are confused about their state laws,” said Stein, who has studied voting nationally. “I think Republicans are going to look at their laws and procedures in the next session. I think they are realizing that they are aggravating voters.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/03/03/early-voting-turnout-2024-primaries/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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