Yesterday’s South Dakota primary results bode ill for Democrats.
Between 2008 and 2016, Clinton lost 4.3 percentage points and a hair over half of her primary supporters. Total Democratic turnout yesterday was only 54.2% of Democratic turnout in 2008.
The Democrats had similar circumstances in their Presidential primary. In 2008, the Associated Press announced that Obama had the delegates to secure the nomination early on primary day. This year, AP made that announcement for Clinton on primary eve. In both cases, voters could have seen their South Dakota vote as either meaningless or as nothing but a message sender.
Democrats did have thirteen legislative primaries around the state in 2008 compared with only four this year (and two of this year’s were meaningless, with withdrawn candidates). However, even in this year’s most hotly contested Democratic primary, the Nesiba/Kirschman Senate tilt in District 15, the number of voters who turned out was actually less than those who turned out for the 2008 primary (caution: today’s District 15 overlaps but differs from 2008’s).
The simplest conclusion: Clinton and Sanders generated far less voter enthusiasm this year than Obama and Clinton did in 2008.
Meanwhile, Republicans showed no such decline in primary zeal:
The textbook racist Donald Trump polled 3.1 percentage points lower than John McCain did in 2008, but 2,074 South Dakota Republicans were willing to vote for Trump than the POW he insulted last summer. Yesterday’s GOP turnout was 9.7% higher than 2008’s GOP turnout.
Both Trump and McCain were foregone conclusions by the time of South Dakota’s primary. 2008 Republicans had the Dykstra/Kephart/Gonyo U.S. Senate primary to draw them to the polls, while 2016 Republicans had no statewide primary race. This year’s GOP primary include 22 Legislative races, compared with 18 in 2008.
I would love to think that Legislative races are the real drivers of primary turnout and that South Dakota voters are more excited about state politics than national politics. But Presidential primaries generally drive higher turnout. This year’s turnout was 21.9% statewide; it was 20.5% in 2014, when we had nothing but state races on the ballot.
Again, the unpleasant simple conclusion: even inviting Independents to participate in the Democratic primary (which wasn’t allowed in 2008) that offered the well-known Independent appeal of Bernie Sanders drew 21% fewer voters than the less contested Republican primary. In South Dakota’s primary, neither Clinton nor Sanders showed any sign of reënergizing the Democratic base, while Trump seemed not to cause any similar deflation of Republican voter turnout.
It looks like it’s up to Paula Hawks, Jay Williams, and us Legislative candidates to fire up the base and get out the vote.
p.s.: South Dakota’s Presidential primary offers one meager bright side: South Dakota Republicans gave Trump his lowest vote percentage in yesterday’s contests. Republicans in California, Montana, and New Mexico all gave Trump over 70%; New Jersey Republicans gave him 80.6%.