The Democratic primary election: What happened?
By Wesley Burt
NOTE: Last week,
SoonerPoll sent this critical analysis of its own polling to
CapitolBeatOK. Without editorial revision or commentary, it appears
below. To access the tables and other aspects of the analysis, visit
Prior to the July 27th primary election, SoonerPoll was one of several pollsters in the state who had Lt. Governor Jari Askins losing to Attorney General Drew Edmondson in the Democratic Primary Race for Governor.
Since the election, researchers at SoonerPoll have been examining voter turnout and conducting extensive polling in order find out why pre-election polls conducted by our house and others were so drastically different from election results.
“We have waited until now to address the issue because we wanted to have hard evidence as to what happened in the election,” Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll, said. “It would be of no use to us or the public at large if we had tried to explain this phenomenon without empirical data from the state election board and our own follow up polling.”
Voter turnout often plays a significant role in an election and in this election it was one of many factors that helped decide the outcome.
When developing a voter turnout model in the state of Oklahoma two counties, Tulsa and Oklahoma, carry more weight than rest because of their population size.
Prior to the election, Tulsa County was considered to be Edmondson’s base. Edmondson won Tulsa County with 61.8 percent of the vote on Election Day, however Tulsa county had the fourth lowest turnout in the state.
“Since we live in a state so dominated by two large cities, a drastically low turnout in either city would result in a broken turnout model,” Shapard said.
Voter turnout in this season’s primary elections was low for Democrats across the nation. In fact, a CBS special report found that the Democratic turnout in Oklahoma was the lowest on record. Conversely, Republican turnout is very high nationwide and Republican turnout in Oklahoma set a record high.
Turnout was especially low in Tulsa County, where only 19.9 percent of registered Democrats voted in the election. Tulsa County had the fourth lowest turnout in the state, well below the average county turnout of 26.4 percent.
Edmondson won Tulsa County by a better than 3 to 2 margin, receiving 61.7 percent of the vote in the primary. If that margin had held, Edmondson would have won the election if voter turnout in Tulsa County had been 5.67 points better, or 25.6 percent, just under the statewide average.
Similarly, Muskogee, Wagoner and Washington counties were all counties considered to be part of Edmondson’s base that had below average turnout.
“Had Edmondson been able to ensure just an average turnout in his base counties, the election would have gone his way,” Shapard said.
Getting out the vote
State election board data shows counties that were considered to be Edmondson’s base had below average turnout in the primary, while Counties considered to be Askins base had an above average turnout.
In order to measure how “Get Out the Vote” campaigns effected the primary, SoonerPoll commissioned and conducted a poll of 450 registered Democrats who voted in the July 27th primary and 401 registered Democrats who were likely to vote in the July 27th primary but did not vote.
Of all those who voted in the primary, 58 percent said they received no contact from the Edmondson campaign while only 50 percent said they received no contact from the Askins campaign
When asked about whether they received mail from one of the candidates 36 percent said they had received mail from Askins, compared to only 30 percent from Edmondson. The same was true when voters were asked about recorded calls, 25 percent said they had received a call from the Askins campaign, while only 20 percent received a call from the Edmondson campaign.
When the probability of voter turnout is analyzed through a binary logistic regression model, associations between the Askins campaign contact tactics of mail pieces, live phone calls and literature and voting was identified.
Neither contacts by the Edmondson campaign or historic controls for voter participation — age, income, education — were statistically significant.
“The three contacting methods identified in the regression model were more effective in mobilizing voter turnout than any other contacting methods used by either Askins or Edmondson,“ Ryan Nelson, Senior Research Analyst at SoonerPoll, said.
The Oklahoma Gazette reported immediately after the July primary on the Askins’ “Get Out the Vote” [GOTV] strategy. The strategy was based in part on selective targeting and mobilization of voters in areas where Askins or her legislative allies were deemed politically-strong, and also on an aggressive ground game that used personal contacting, mail, phones, and literature to mobilize select voters.
“Around the margins, it was the Askins ground game and GOTV effort that drove the shape of the electorate in a low-turnout primary,” Dr. Keith Gaddie, Vice-President of SoonerPoll, observed.
The poll conducted by SoonerPoll following the primary election asked respondents a variety of other questions, including whether they approve of President Barack Obama.
In the current political environment, the president and his policies have become the focus of political debate from the national to the local level. The president’s approval rating, while never strong among voters in Oklahoma, nonetheless has consequences for Democratic voter participation in November.
The poll results reveal that those with strong opinions for or against the president were more likely to vote than those with weaker or no opinions.
Primary voters who strongly support Obama were more likely to prefer Askins over Edmondson with few undecided, while voters who strongly oppose Obama were evenly split with about a third in favor of Askins, about a third in favor of Edmondson and about a third undecided.
“Obama had a polarizing effect on the Democrat electorate, those undecided Democratic Primary voters who oppose Obama had difficulty picking a candidate because neither candidate represented the anti-Obama candidate,” Shapard said. “For obvious political reasons, neither Askins nor Edmondson wanted to distance themselves from their party in Washington or Obama.”
When the Obama approval ratings are compared to how Democrats intend to vote in November a similar trend is revealed.
Those who strongly approve of Obama are more likely to say they will vote for Askins, inversely, Democrats that do not approve of Obama are more likely to either support Mary Fallin or be undecided.
“Right now, polling shows that Mary Fallin is receiving a large number of crossover votes from Democrats who are unsatisfied with Obama and have nowhere else to turn,” Shapard said.
Gaddie agrees, and sees this as a hurdle for all Democratic competitors this November. “The challenge for Democrats on the ballot, including Ms. Askins, is to figure out how to invigorate and mobilize these Democrats, who need to turnout and support her at an 85 percent clip to prevail in November,” Gaddie said.
Impact on the general election
When the respondents who voted in the primary election were asked who they plan to vote for in the general election, 57 percent said Askins and 24 percent said Fallin while 20 percent remained undecided. Of those who did not vote, 46 percent said Askins and 28 percent said Fallin while 26 percent remained undecided.
A deeper look into secondary polling data indicates that Democrats who stayed home in the primary election were ‘disenfranchised’ with the party. Non-voters were slightly more likely to be conservative, disapprove of Obama, and not have a preference in the primary.
“The large number of undecideds and Fallin supporters among those who did not vote, indicates that many Democrats may have sat out of the primary election because they anticipated voting Republican in November regardless of who the candidate was,” Shapard said.
In the 2008 election, 49.3 percent of Democrats, 43.8 percent of Republicans, and 6.7 percent of Independents turned out to vote. Using that turn out model and the rule of thumb that 90 percent of Republicans will vote for the Republican candidate and Democrats and Republicans will split the Independent vote, Republicans need as little as 15 percent of Democratic votes to win the election.
Historically, statewide Republican candidates have needed a much larger percent of the Democratic vote to win. That amount has slowly decreased overtime as Republicans have increased in registration while Democratic turnout has dropped.
With 24 percent of Democratic voters and 28 percent Democratic non-voters in favor of the Republican nominee, the 15 point threshold is a daunting figure. The most recent SoonerPoll conducted earlier this month shows 31.2 percent of Democrats are now in favor Fallin, raising the hurdle even higher for the Askins campaign.
“Right now the election is Fallin’s to lose,” Shapard said. “She has a 17.3 percent crossover advantage and has the support of both Republicans and Democrats who do not approve of the president,” Shapard said.
The Fallin campaign has been able to capitalize on the low approval of Obama among Democrats. Conservative political groups unaffiliated with Fallin’s campaign have been running commercials which link Askins to Obama. so far the commercials have been effective and will probably continue to be until Askins makes an effort to distance herself from the president.
“If Askins has any hope of making up ground in this race she is going to have to focus within her own party,” Shapard said. “Democrats like Joe Manchin from West Virginia have been able to overcome similar situations by giving Democrats who don’t approve of Obama a Democratic candidate to run to.”
Gaddie says that the Askins campaign needs a game-changer in order to stay competitive in this election.
“The initial debate has telegraphed a plan to challenge Republican characterizations of the Lieutenant Governor that tie her to unpopular national Democratic politicians and policies,” Gaddie said. “They were able to run stealthy in the primary in order to break the turnout model. There is no such privilege in a high-salience general election with an energized conservative electorate. They have to move, aggressively and in the open, if they want to overcome the ambivalence of a significant and important portion of the Democratic electorate.”