PHOENIX — Arizona’s primary election in presidential years can sometimes seem quiet, especially so in years like 2020.
While political ad spending in top of the ticket races, like the U.S. Senate, are already in full swing, almost none of it is directed at primary opponents. A good example of that is Republican Senator Martha McSally who has been ignoring her primary opponent, Daniel McCarthy, opting instead to focus on her General Election Opponent, Democrat Mark Kelly, who does not have a primary opponent on the ballot.
No matter the races or the current seemingly quiet political environment, we are on pace to turn in more ballots than ever before in a primary.
George Khalaf is a Republican political strategist and pollster. He has been tracking the early ballots this year and is showing that 1,140,282 ballots have been returned so far. This is almost 270,000 more ballots than were returned at the same time in 2018.
Republican primary voters have returned 484,835 ballots, this is 72,649 more than were returned at this time last year.
But even though Republican ballot performance is impressive, it is dwarfed by Democratic primary voters.
Democrats may be in the process of shattering their own turnout records set in 2018. 496,455 democratic ballots have been returned so far. This is 169,360 ballots more than 2018 at the same time, a 52% increase. So, what would be driving these numbers for Democrats?
Sam Almy, a Democratic political strategist who also tracks early ballots, tells ABC15 that younger voters that have previously shown little interest in participating in the August primary, are coming out in force now.
“On the Democratic side, we are seeing a lot of new voters come out,” says Almy. “People who are 1 of 3 primary voters, meaning they voted in 1 of 3 of the last 3 primaries. Newly registered voters, 0 of 3, we are seeing them turn out at a much higher rate than their GOP counterparts.”
Khalaf agrees and tells us that this is the first election that he has records of that Democrats are outperforming Republicans in the primary. Typically, the party enjoys a double-digit performance gap over Democrats in August.
There are two variables that turnout prognosticators cannot factor in when accounting for the gap between the parties: COVID-19 and President Donald Trump.
Trump has continually expressed concern over the early ballot process, an opinion shared publicly by neither Democrats nor all county election officials in Arizona. This could be causing a larger than normal number of Republicans to hold on to their ballot until the last minute.
On the flip side, COVID-19 could be causing a larger number of Democrats to mail in their ballots that would have otherwise dropped them off or would have voted in person on election day. County recorder Adrian Fontes recently said that the Permanent Early Voter List, which is comprised of ballot by mail, has added “tens of thousands” of registered voters since last quarter.
Khalaf says that the primary turnout is poised to be around 30%. Whether we break turnout records this year will depend on what election day turnout looks like Tuesday.