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October 13, 2012

John K. Manna: Higher turnout in county helps Democrats

NEW CASTLE — There may be some exceptions, but presidential elections usually generate a higher voter turnout than so-called off-year elections.

The question is, how much effect will voter turnout for this year’s presidential race have on other contests, including those for Congress and the state Legislature?

The 2008 and 2010 general elections provide some insight into what may happen — at least locally on Nov. 6.

In 2008, approximately 42,800 Lawrence County residents voted. Barack Obama lost the county to John McCain by about 2,000 votes.

With two exceptions, all other Democrats on the ballot carried Lawrence County. Those exceptions were Tom Corbett, who won re-election as attorney general, and Elder Vogel, who won election as state senator.

One of the Democrats who won was U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire. He carried the county over Republican Melissa Hart by about 9,000 votes.

Two years later, Altmire defeated Keith Rothfus in the county by less than 3,000 votes.

That was the year when Republicans gained control of the U.S. House and made inroads in the U.S. Senate. So, the Republican tide may have had some effect on local races.

But so did turnout. A little more than 28,000 Lawrence County residents voted in the 2010 election. That was about 14,000 fewer voters than the 2008 presidential election.

In a county where Democrats hold a big registration advantage, that dropoff in voter participation can be significant for Democratic candidates.

There certainly was no coattail effect in 2008. Voters overall looked at each race in its own context and voted accordingly.

That should be the case again this year. Although nobody has a crystal ball, there is consensus that President Obama will lose Lawrence County again. But based on past experience, the coattails will be short or nonexistent in the county on either the Republican or Democratic side.

However, this year’s election will bring out a higher number of voters than two years ago and that should translate into an advantage for Democratic candidates on the ballot in Lawrence County. That doesn’t necessarily mean a win for Democrats in each race, but an advantage nonetheless.

 

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