A couple of points are apparent in this election: Registering voters in one’s party is important but it does not assure higher turn out for that party. Republicans did much better than Democrats in turnout this year. We are skating on thin ice if we don’t do better. While we probably can’t do much about the ill-effects of gerrymandering and incumbency, we should be able to increase our turnout and maybe even increase our representation in congress.
This year (as in the past) Democrats had far more registered voters (1,796,000) than Republicans (1,081,000), but you would not guess that from the results: six congressional Democratic wins and six Republican wins. Of course, in our state unaffiliated registered voters are the wild card, and this year there were 2,611,000 of them. Nonetheless, Democrats had far more of their registered supporters sit it out (or vote for the opposite party) than Republicans, and it’s not just because this is a “Republican Year” or a non-presidential year.
In CD 2 and CD3 where there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, it is the Republicans who won this year and who have been winning the most in the last twenty years or so here. In CD 2 this year Bill Hughes (D) had a turnout of 62,808 voters, or only 50% of the 126,927 registered Democrats, and Frank LoBiondo (R) had a turn-out of 104,745 voters, or 89% of 117,560 registered Republicans. In CD 3 Aimee Belgard (D) had a turn out of 75,922 voters or 58% of 130,753 registered Democrats, while MacArthur had a turn out of 95,166 votes or 78% of registered Republicans. These data do not include the larger group of unaffiliated voters, but they do suggest that Democratic candidates could have done much better had more registered Democrats voted for them. Even if the votes Hughes garnered were all Dems, there were still more than 60,000 additional registered Dems to capture. A similar scenario applies to CD 3.
This pattern of Republicans doing better in turnout was rampant this year in spite of the fact that D’s had far more registered voters (1,796,000) than R’s (1,081,000). All six winning Republican congressional candidates did a better job at turning out their supporters than the Democrats. The Republican winners’ turnout ranged from 116,000 down to 95,000, and Democratic winners had a lower turnout starting at 92,000 and down to 57,000. In CD 8 Albio Sires (D) won with the 57,000 turnout votes, but six losers in other campaigns had higher votes than he did. In 2012 (a presidential Obama year with more turnout) the pattern was more balanced with D’s winning with a range of 210,000 down to 131,000 voters and R’s ranging from 195,000 to 166,000.
We are skating on thin ice if we can’t do better, and this result is not just because this was a “Republican year” or a non-presidential year. In New Jersey R’s did not increase their 6-man delegation, and D’s won two of the three open seats. However, as an example, in the race that D’s might have most wanted to win, CD 5, incumbent Scott Garrett (R) has a history of capturing a higher per cent of registered Republicans than Democrats capture of their registered voters. Again excluding unaffiliated voters, in 2014 Garrett won with a vote that represented 76% of registered R’s and Cho (D) lost with a vote that represented 64% of registered Democrats. In 2012, a presidential year with a much higher turnout, Garret reached 127% and the challenger had 104%. In 2010 when the district had more Republicans Garrett reached 92% and his challenger achieved only 64%. In each case there were many more potential Democratic votes that went uncaptured.
The Democratic wins this cycle were all with a cushy margin, but a strong Republican challenger could sucker punch us in the future. Our wins with 57,000 voters and 79,000 voters in NJ’s districts which average about 734,000 people render us vulnerable.
It is also possible that some of our districts may suffer from too many Democrats who have grown complacent and assume they will win. Strategically re-districting some of them into selected Republican districts might permit new opportunities for victory and reawaken the Democrats as participants in the election process. In 2008 when the proportion of registered R’s and D’s was about the same as today there were 8 congressional D’s and 5 congressional R’s. (Since then we lost one district held by a D, and CD3 returned to the R column.)
While we probably can’t do much about the ill-effects of gerrymandering and incumbency, we should be able to increase our turnout and maybe even increase our representation in congress.