August 22, 2016

Primary turnout doesn't predict general turnout (a la the "monster vote" model)

Continuing the series on tempering expectations for what is going to be a close race, there's a major misconception we have to clear up about using the primary turnout to predict the turnout of the general election.

Shown below is the relationship between primary vs. general turnout for both parties back to 1976, when the 50-state primary system began. I've shown all years, not only those when both parties held primaries, in order to see how the general vote has changed each step along the way. Turnout is in millions, and the "multiplier" means how many times the general vote was compared to the primary vote. Blank entries mean no primary was held, and therefore no multiplier could be calculated either. Click to enlarge.

As I discussed here, primary and general elections are separate and independent from each other. The primary turnout reflects how motivated voters are to leave at an early stage, so whichever party has the more engaging primary contest will have higher primary turnout -- regardless of who will eventually have more on their side when it's the two parties vs. each other in the general. That's why knowing who had higher primary turnout tells you nothing about who won the general -- half the time it favored the primary winner, half the time it favored the primary loser.

Usually, Democrats have higher primary turnout, although in 2000 the Republicans did -- and still went on to lose the general turnout. In 2016, the Republicans have had a slightly higher primary turnout. Since there's only one other time when that happened (2000), there's no pattern there to guide us today.

Now, what if we looked to an earlier year and compared how a party's primary turnout compared to its ultimate general turnout, then applied that "multiplier" from the past to the current primary turnout? We'd have predictions for each one's general turnout, and hence a prediction of who would win and by how much.

This is the idea behind the "monster vote" model that was proposed at the Conservative Treehouse, first in a guest post and periodically discussed afterward, most recently here. I'm addressing this idea since a lot of folks have started to read TCT this election cycle, and may be relying on this model to predict what will happen.

Sadly, the model is fatally flawed. It only looks at 2008 and 2012 to calculate the "primary-to-general multipliers," even though there are data going back to 1976. Based on 2008 and 2012, the Republican primary turnout roughly tripled by the general stage. Assuming that same multiplier will hold this time, would predict a Republican general turnout of around 90 million -- 30 million more people than voted for McCain or Romney, an increase of 50%. The recent TCT post allows the multiplier to go down to just 2, predicting a general turnout of 62 million for Trump.

I don't see much of a problem with assuming the multiplier for the Republicans will be somewhere between 2 and 3, though probably closer to 2. If we look across all years, their multiplier ranges from 2.8 to 4.0.

However, we have to remember the relationship between primary excitement and general turnout. The more exciting and engaging the primary is, the more regular voters will be captured during this early stage -- and fewer additional ones left to turn out in the general. In short, the more engaging the primary, the lower the multiplier (so many have already turned out during the motivating primary), and the more pointless the primary feels, the greater the multiplier (everyone waits till Election Day itself, and only a few bother showing up during the primary).

Because the Republican primary this year was by all accounts the most motivating and engaging at least since 1976, their multiplier this year will be lower than any previous value. The lowest value before was 2.8, so this time around it will probably be from, say, 2 to 2.5.

The real problem with the "monster vote" model is how it treats Democrat turnout. It's only basing its D multiplier on 2008, which was the most engaging primary in all of American history. As such, so many of the eventual D general voters had already shown up during their primary, and the result was the low multiplier of 1.9.

Naively assuming that this same multiplier applied to the 2016 D primary turnout of 30.6, we'd predict a general turnout of merely 58 million for Clinton -- down 8 million from Obama's 2012 turnout, or down 12%. The only precedent for that would be the R decline of 10 million from 1988 to '92, although about half of that is due to Perot siphoning votes. Without a massive third-party splitting Hillary's turnout, there is simply no way the Democrats will lose close to 10 million votes from 2012.

The error comes from applying a low multiplier from the most highly engaging primary ever (2008) to a primary that was somewhat engaging, but also somewhat of a coronation. Especially during the first four or five weeks, when the minority-heavy states made it a cakewalk for Hillary, and when Bernie was not really taking the fight to her. When the primary is not so engaging, it means there are likely lots of eventual Democrat voters who are just staying home during primary season, and there will be a higher multiplier.

The lowest multipliers on the D side were 1.8 to 1.9, in 2008, 1988, and 1980. These were all unusually engaging primaries -- 2008 was the chance to nominate either the first black or the first woman, 1988 was an earlier chance to nominate the first black (Jesse Jackson), and 1980 saw the incumbent President Carter be challenged by party heavyweight Ted Kennedy. These races cleared the benches of D voters, leaving far fewer left to turn out in the general.

In 2016, there was no such bench-clearing primary for the Democrats -- some novelty in nominating a woman, although sex matters less than race in identity politics, and some excitement for an anti-Establishment candidate. But it was no Carter vs. Kennedy, Dukakis vs. Jackson, or Obama vs. Clinton.

On the other hand, it was not a total coronation like sitting VP Al Gore brushing aside Bill Bradley in 2000, meaning low primary turnout and therefore a higher multiplier for the general. And it was not like 2004 where Edwards didn't distinguish himself much from Kerry other than his personal history, and where Dean flamed out early for being uber-liberal. This dynamic also made for little excitement and a high multiplier for the general when reliable D voters would eventually come out.

The best we can say is that in 2016 the D multiplier will be between 2 and 3, probably closer to 2 since it was more engaging than coronation-like.

Now notice the problem for predicting the winner in the 2016 general: the primary turnout is essentially the same on both sides, with a slight edge for Republicans (31.1 vs. 30.6). Therefore what really matters is the multiplier -- but we've seen that it will be in the same ball park for both candidates, somewhere around 2 to 2.5. With similar starting values and similar multipliers, we cannot distinguish the fine-grained difference in general turnout.

To see how murky it is, we'll make slight adjustments in the multipliers that will lead to drastically different outcomes. Suppose the D multiplier is 2.2 and the R multiplier a bit higher at 2.3 -- then the general turnout is 67 to 72 million in favor of Trump, who will win 52% of the popular vote. But suppose it's the other way around, still only a slight difference in magnitude, though -- now it's 70 to 68 million favoring Clinton, who will win 51%.

We frankly have no way to decide at a fine-grained level who will have a marginally higher multiplier, so this model makes no meaningful prediction about the difference in general turnout. The best we can conclude based on the history of 1976 to 2012 is that this year's race will be close in the popular vote (similar primary turnout, similar multipliers), and neither will win the popular vote with 55% or more.

Remember, the "monster vote" model was not just presenting a long-shot best-case scenario, it was stating the expected outcome. There is no way that the expectation is for Hillary to lose nearly 10 million voters from Obama 2012. The relatively pathetic turnout during the D primary, and the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary overall, is more likely a sign that it will be like it was for Republicans in 2008 -- lots of bored, depressed, unenthusiastic voters who would nevertheless turn out on Election Day for their party.

As it turns out, I do have a model in mind where Trump could win by quite a large margin, but it would be in the "less likely, still possible" range of likelihood, and it does not rely on assuming that the "primary-to-general multipliers" from the past couple elections apply in the present. It also does not include any way for Hillary to win by a yuge margin.

It looks at the power to draw in irregular voters, which is a longer shot the greater the size of irregular voters we're talking about, and which is effectively absent on the Crooked Hillary side. But it does not have to do with using primary turnout to predict general turnout, since the irregular and apathetic voters are mostly sitting out the primary to begin with. It is more of a "black swan" model, not based on the behavior of past well-behaved elections.

As a final warning, when I asked about the limitations of the data in the recent post at TCT, I was dismissed, and a follow-up comment that I left with data going back to 2000 instead of just 2008, was deleted. Based on that response, I'm going to strongly caution people about anything being proposed there of a quantitative nature.

They have been excellent at revealing who the key players are inside the Establishment, who their pay-masters are, what their links and relationships are, and where the balance of power is shifting among their alliances. But they're putting solid faith in a model that has little basis in reality, and are not only resistant to honest polite feedback, but censoring objections to it.

I want to keep everybody clear about what is and is not being predicted by what data we have available. Otherwise, we will harden into a deluded echo chamber, the way conservatives did back in 2012 about Romney being not only a sure win, but in a landslide -- and thinking this just days before the election!


  1. Random Dude on the Internet8/22/16, 8:50 AM

    How do you see Johnson and Stein playing out?

    My uneducated guess is that they will only see marginal improvements from their 2012 runs. Johnson ends up with 1-1.2% and Stein ends up 0.4-0.6%. I always see Johnson's poll numbers as uncertain Republican voters who will come around for Trump at the 11th hour and the same goes for Stein and Clinton.

    If McMullin even is in the race by November, maybe he gets 0.1 or 0.2% of the popular vote, mostly from diehard #nevertrump supporters in Utah, Idaho, and Colorado who are too stubborn to admit they lost.

  2. In 2012, they only got 20% of what they polled at. So if Johnson gets up to 10%, make that 2%, and if Stein goes up to 5%, make that 1%. Their combined ceiling is around 3%, floor 1%.


    In PA, it sure seems like there's a lot of visible support for Trump, at least closer to the sticks. Oh, and instead of painting Trump voters as a bunch of stupid hateful rubes, we get acknowledgment of their humanity. Like, they actually have reasonable hopes and fears. Not everybody wants to turn their back on the places from which they come. Not everybody wants to decamp to the West because, "that's where all the good jobs are". Yeah, and that's also where tons of immigrants, American born transients, cults, goofy fads, childlike naivete, and edgy paranoia also are common. L.A. has the lowest trust levels in the country; it's also the most diverse (ethnically and intellectually) place in the country. Coincidence?

    Yuppies/strivers, deracineated white liberals, alienated younger people who have no understanding of what America once was, and cuck cultural warriors just don't make the connection between security, stability, continuity, and prosperity. We've got to shame these stubborn people into "settling" for a more modest and slow pace to everything. Eventually more people will start to realize that climbing too fast means kicking the faces of too many people below you. And climbing too high means a greater risk of falling to your death.

    There shouldn't be any stigma regarding the control of immigrants, either. It's a basic obligation of any nation to put it's natives before anyone else. We can't feel too guilty about turning people away. None of us would if we (re) learned that it's good for natives to keep diseases, criminals, welfare cases, and cheap labor out.

    BTW, I don't really get why Con. Tree House is blacklisting you. If we really want to stand together, we need to be listening to each other. The site owner must really have some insecurities. Maybe he doesn't want anyone to pop his bubble that he keeps inflating. So what if he got called out for being wrong; we make mistakes, people will get over it, and escaping accountability and continuing a fraud will do a lot more damage than being honest about your flaws and conceits.

    As much hostility as there is towards people living in the cucksphere and those who seem to live their lives as offerings to the diversity idol, we can't be too smug either. The alt-right shouldn't be suppressing honest research and analysis regarding demographics, probabilities, and the overall state of things at present and in the future. For the best way to escape the dreary PC culture war era is to make a renewed commitment to honesty and inquiry. Being an insecure little bitch and casting out and smearing earnest skeptics is not doing our cause any favors. The "manly" Alt-righters can do better.

  4. The county that Hooversville PA is in, Somerset, already went for Romney at over 70% -- not sure how much more blood we can squeeze from that stone. And population is only about 80,000.

    The difference today is that they're incredibly enthusiastic about voting Republican, rather than just voting against the Democrat. Finally the Republican is tailor-made for them.

    We can't conclude anything about Trump's general performance if we look at places that were already heavily Republican last time.

    Even in swing areas, how do we know that Trump signs mean new Republican voters, rather than reliable R voters who are just happy to show it this time around, vs. bored / ashamed / depressed by the cuckservatives?

    A true sign of a landslide would be Trump signs in every other yard in the Philly suburbs. They aren't reliable R voters showing it in public for a change. Eastern PA is reliably blue.

    A 1980 style landslide (in the electoral vote, popular was not) came with the "Reagan Democrats" -- voters from traditionally blue areas, who found enough common ground with the Reagan coalition, or who had been so turned off by Carter's results, that they stepped beyond partisan loyalty and voted for who they thought would be best for them and the nation.

    A more promising sign of a shift in PA is Luzerne County in the eastern part of the state (home to Wilkes-Barre). It's been blue since the culture wars began in the '90s, yet Trump is polling consistently at 20 points above Crooked Hillary:

    That's the Reagan Democrats.

    Reagan also brought in lots of suburban moderates, and Trump would need them to get a seismic shift in PA -- mainly the Philly metro suburbs.

    If we don't investigate these areas that have been blue since the '90s (liberal side of the culture war), then we're remaining in an echo chamber.

  5. Conservative Treehouse writers and commenters are mostly in the paranoid under-siege bunker mindset -- "the last refuge".

    They're going there for a feeling of relief and escape from the corrupted world (half of the American people are irredeemable scum in their eyes, at least that was the feeling in 2012).

    In the '90s, they retreated into the talk radio bubble, in the 2000s the Fox News bubble, and in the 2010s the conservasphere website bubble.

    If their mindset is finding sanctuary, then asking honest questions about their "monster vote" model is like desecration -- during the holy service, no less. It isn't functioning as a serious attempt to understand reality, but as a ritual object that provides emotional comfort for the dejected, whether the object "really works" or not.

    Questioning its functional value is therefore taboo, as though you were questioning the nutritional value of the host in Communion -- during the service!

    I didn't know they were so echo-chambered until they deleted that comment with more historical data that called their model into question.

    On a hunch I went through their archives, and they (including the main writer, Sundance) were convinced that Romney was going to win, in a landslide, not even close, we got this, polls schmolls, etc. This was right up through Election Day.

    Trump poked fun at Karl Rove for his on-air denial meltdown in 2012 about how Ohio could not possibly have gone to Obama (guess the bribe to fix the election didn't pan out this time). "He's the only one going around saying, 'I think Romney won the election!' What a dope."

    But that carried over into the conservasphere websites, and just as we can't rely on Rove's judgment, we shouldn't rely on the conservasphere's assessment of anything quantitative -- whatever else they may have the inside scoop on.

  6. Random Dude on the Internet8/23/16, 3:23 PM

    I think it will tough to predict with any certainty how this election will turn out due to demographic changes.

    For 2008 and 2012, minority turnout really increased, to where the black turnout percentage was higher than the white turnout percentage. With 2016, I really don't see black people coming out in droves to vote for an old white lady, no matter how hard she panders to them. Without a black person on the ticket, it will be a hard sell to get them to come out and vote.

    Much has been talked about of an increased turnout of the white working class but I think this group of people will be less reliable. Again, purely anecdotal, which means little or nothing, but I know of several working class Trump supporters who still don't plan to go out and vote. Trump's landslide is dependent on these people voting for the first time in 20-30 years or even ever in their life and I think it is a very hard sell that they will show up. They might show up to his rallies but registering to vote and showing up on November 8 is another matter entirely. Here's hoping that there are some GOTV efforts in the white working class communities in the coming weeks.

  7. White and black turnout was identical in '08 (69%), and when Obama did worse in '12, it was despite higher black turnout than white (71% vs. 67%).

    The electorate was as black as the (voting eligible) population overall -- 15-16%.

    It looks that way back through '00 as well, and the population has only gotten slightly blacker during that time -- from 13% to 15%.

    Racial composition of the country or the electorate had absolutely nothing to do with Obama's wins -- which were due to liberal and moderate whites coming out in droves, plus a large defection of former Bush '04 voters when faced with McCain.

  8. Black voters will definitely turn out for a crusty ol' whitey grandma if she's the Democrat. They simply vote Democrat, either voluntarily out of a sense of loyalty to the party that they've belonged to for 50 years, or by being rounded up from the inner city and bussed out to the polling station like a herd of cattle.

    Black voters who are actually open-minded and weighing each choice are a minority -- 15% are for Trump, and some other percent at least considered him, but we're still talking a minority that are not reflexive Democrat voters.

    White people make a grave mistake when they attribute white mindsets to black people, thinking that they'll be far less likely to vote for a white woman than a black man. They tribalistically vote Democrat, whoever it may be.

  9. (Data from two comments up is from the General Social Survey, btw)

  10. Among Bush '04 voters, fully 26% defected to Obama in '08, whereas only 6% of Kerry '04 voters defected to McCain.

    Not only is 26% a hell of a lot bigger than 6%, it was taken of a larger population -- 62 million Bush voters, vs. only 59 million Kerry voters.

    Obama's thumping of McCain was more of a big F-U to Bush than an endorsement of whatever Obama was promising. That was why McCain lost even Indiana and North Carolina, who had had it with neoconservatism.

  11. "Here's hoping that there are some GOTV efforts in the white working class communities in the coming weeks."

    Roger Stone is planning on doing this in the swing states, proportional to how much money he can raise.

    That's the only source of a landslide, and at least we know they won't be turning out for Crooked Hillary.

    Another positive is that white working class people who are politically isolated are more common in red states. In blue states, they may belong to a union or know someone who does -- someone who could get them registered.

    Part of the near-term agenda is to organize the unorganized, not just politically into the hostile takeover of the former country club party by the salt of the earth, but economically into labor unions so they can throw more of their weight around vs. the globalist outsourcing management.

  12. Random Dude on the Internet8/23/16, 5:48 PM

    Good information, thank you.

    Between the cuck belt defeatists who are Trump supporters but are ready to throw in the towel in mid-August of all times because he's behind in a couple of polls, cuckservatives who handwring and "still don't know" about Trump, and the white working class people I talked to who are in the tank for Trump but still aren't going to vote, it seems like I need to temper my expectations from a 400+ electoral vote landslide to something more realistic like your 320 EV prediction.

    Here's hoping that Trump wins the debates and brings a lot of these people back into the GOP-voting fold come election time.

  13. 'even though there are data going back to 1976'
    You're using 1976 numbers to makes guesses on a post-2000 electorate?

    'Because the Republican primary this year was by all accounts the most motivating and engaging at least since 1976, their multiplier this year will be lower than any previous value.'
    Yeah all those people who voted, say, Cruz will hand the Supreme Court to Hillary and surrender their guns. On the other hand, all those Sanders supporters will rush to vote for Clinton - they love free trade and neo-con wars!

    Seriously, there is a reason why you are left with commenting on another blog and apparently don't present your musings there in the comments section.

    CTH predicted the primary turn-out, what did you ever get right?

  14. "to makes guesses on a post-2000 electorate?"

    CTH only used one year -- 2008 -- to predict this year's Dem multiplier, suggesting that nearly 10 million are going to vanish from last time. It's lazy and foolish.

    I'm judging from all data available, not being naive or cherry-picking.

    Cruz voters are already captured by the primary numbers -- cannot add to the general numbers, moron.

    Sanders supporters are by and large voting for Clinton, since they're partisan Democrats who are just posers about being against TPP and endless wars.

    "CTH predicted the primary turn-out"

    They also got the general completely wrong last time -- search archives of November 2012. Right up till the end, it was Romney in a landslide, we got this, not even close, etc.

    You're another one who refuses to understand the relationship between primary excitement and low multiplier for the general. You're just looking for an emotional comfort, to avoid the thought that Trump actually could lose the election.

    While you're so assured that all these monster voters are just going to register themselves and find their own way to the polling stations, you aren't organizing anybody. If the monster vote fails to turn out, it'll be because you were too assured that they would do so on their own, and not need a ground game or GOTV effort.

  15. "and apparently don't present your musings there in the comments section."

    Read better -- I did, and they deleted the data I presented back through 2000.

    I'm banned there now, but still leave comments so that at least the voice of reason gets to the writers and moderators, if not the general audience.

    Sundance just wrote another post about how 25% of Florida early/absentee voters have never voted before "EVER" -- turns out they have, and the article he linked to only said they were new to the *primaries*.

    So, they're regular general election voters who, for a change, feel motivated enough to take part in the earlier primary stage. They're not voters who are new to the general election.

    The article said so itself, and Sundance even quoted the paragraph saying so, with the sentence in bold!

    Fortunately other commenters noticed this and said, "Hey, these aren't monster voters." So how does he respond? By glibly dismissing their comments, totally ignorant of what they were saying -- these voters are new to *primaries*, NOT the general.

    He has great knowledge of who's who in the GOP Establishment, what their shifting and conflicting motivations are, who's funding them, and so on. It's great to read for the inside look at their whole ecosystem.

    But when it comes to predicting the general, he's only looking for confirmation that it's going to be a landslide for whoever the Republican is this year -- Romney, Trump, or whoever. Even if what he's citing doesn't say it, he'll interpret it as a sign of the monster vote.


  16. The whole appeal of the monster vote story is that it allows you paranoid hermit types the comfort to stay isolated, because the monster voters are going to swoop in to the rescue like a deus ex machina.

    No need to knock on doors, staff a phone bank, hold voter registration drives in Trump-friendly areas, and so on and so forth.

    Some of the irregular voters will organize themselves -- but these "new to the general" voters were only 6-13% of primary GOP voters, depending on the state.

    If you want the whole bunch of them to come out of the woodwork, you're going to have to go full Brexit and meet people where they live, work, and hang out, and spread the gospel. Frankly, the Trump movement is not doing that.

    Part of it is the campaign not having enough money or manpower, but they can only be expected to do so much. Grassroots Trump supporters aren't out and about spreading the gospel of populist nationalism wherever they find ears willing to listen.

    That is a major project for the next four years -- to make sure that, regardless of 2016, the next election is not even close.

    This election will mostly be won by re-aligning the existing regular voters, e.g. shifting enough Dems in Michigan to our side. New voters are going to play a much smaller role, unless there is a last-minute surge in voter registrations.

  17. In fairness to calling Bernie supporters posers about TPP, corruption, war, etc. -- we would have seen something similar among Trump voters if Jeb ended up with the nomination instead, while Bernie won it on the other side.

    How many Trump primary voters would cross the aisle and vote for Bernie in the general, if the Republican were Jeb?

    I know I would have -- I don't care about either party, have not voted since 2000, and even then only for Nader. Too young to vote before then, but might have been a Perot voter too.

    But most Trump primary voters are Republican regulars who would vote for Jeb over Bernie -- despite everything Trump had said against TPP, Wall Street corruption of politicians, nation-building neocons, etc.

    Partisanship is starting to thaw out, but it's not going to melt overnight. We were hoping too much on that front. Bernie voters are going mostly for Crooked Hillary instead of Trump, and if the shoe were on the other foot, we'd be seeing consolidation of Trump voters around Jeb instead of crossing over to Bernie.


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