Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can Ehrlich Defeat O’Malley? Part Two

Over the last six election cycles, Democrats have slightly grown their registration edge over Republicans. But turnout paints a more complicated story.

Here are voter registrations by party on general election day from 1998 through 2008, plus on 10/31/09.

The Democrats fell from 57.6% of the state’s registered voters in 1998 to 55.1% in 2006, and then recovered to 56.9% on 10/31/09. The GOP has fallen from 30.0% in 2002 to 26.6% on 10/31/09. It is noteworthy that the Democrat-Republican gap has increased over President Obama’s first ten months in office. Unaffiliated/other registrants have grown steadily from 12.1% of registered voters in 1998 to 16.6% on 10/31/09.

Here are the turnout rates in each of the last six general elections.

The GOP has had a higher turnout rate than the Democrats in every year except 1998 and 2008. Their biggest edge in turnout came in 2002, when 67.4% of Republicans voted against 62.9% of Democrats – a margin of 4.5 points. In 2006, the GOP had a 3.4 point advantage.

But the most interesting aspect of the above chart is the turnout behavior of unaffiliated/other voters. They have an average turnout rate of 66.4% during Presidential Election years, about 12-13 points below Democrats and Republicans. But they only have an average turnout rate of 43.5% during Gubernatorial Election years, about 20 points below the members of the two major parties. This is very important to Republican statewide candidates, who must have lots of votes from independents to win.

The above data combined with the county-specific registration information we posted in Part One illustrates that it is very, very difficult for a GOP candidate to win a statewide office in Maryland. Governor O’Malley’s campaign manager and Democratic strategists would have us believe that a Republican victory is nearly impossible. But that opinion is belied by a simple fact: Republican Congressman Bob Ehrlich did win a Governor’s race, beating Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by 3.9 percentage points in 2002. If Ehrlich won once, could he win again eight years later?

Our approach to answering that question is to examine the reasons for Ehrlich’s 2002 victory and assess their likelihood of repeating in 2010. We’ll begin in Part Three.