Numbers to Ponder

rThree totally unrelated, but intriguing, numbers courtesy of Governing magazine:

  • 33%: Americans with past-due debt that’s been turned over to a collection agency
  • 15%: Proportion of voting-age residents who cast ballots in the 25 states that held primaries in the first six months of this year. In 15 of those states, turnout was the lowest ever. (Indiana’s primary turnout was slightly below the 15% average)
  • 146: Number of U.S. counties that account for half of the country’s 316 million people. The rest of the population is distributed across the remaining 2,998 counties. Indiana’s largest and smallest counties, respectively, are Marion with 928,281 people (54th largest in the country) and Ohio with 5,994 people (ranked 2,758 nationally)

Adding Up the Election Numbers

Chamber members had the opportunity earlier today to hear from two guys in the election trenches during our monthly Policy Issue Conference Call. I can’t share all they had to say, but did want to recap some of the numbers and insights they offered.

Jeff Brantley is director of political affairs for the Chamber’s Indiana Business for Responsive Government, focused on electing pro-economy, pro-jobs candidates to the Indiana General Assembly. Michael Davis previously was in that position before moving to Washington earlier this year for a role with BIPAC, focused on congressional elections and working with states on their political programs.

Among the offerings:

  • Michael cited "enthusiasm gap" polling that reflects the mood of the electorate. Typically a strong advantage for Democrats, it’s currently in the +2 to +10 range for Republicans. In 1994, when a major GOP swing took place in the mid-term election, the "gap"  was +4 for Democrats.
  • There are between 120 and 125 competitive U.S. House races (at least twice the norm). The striking difference is in which party currently controls those competitive seats — 105 for Democrats and 18 for Republicans.
  • At a minimum, there will be 15 new U.S. senators, 43 new reps and a continuing trend in governors who were not in power as recently as two years ago.
  • At the state level, Jeff notes there are "very competitive races in places we’ve not seen competitive races before." He also points out the absence of the traditional human services and education issues; the attention is focused on the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs.
  • The "change" mantra in Indiana is strongest in the southern portion of the state. There are very competitive Statehouse races along the Ohio River and in other southern areas. Change, of course, can mean a backlash against incumbents — no matter the party.
  • Turnout, as always, will be crucial. But turnout takes on a whole new meaning with the growing number of voters who cast their ballots well ahead of Election Day.

The bottom line: November 2 and its results will be most interesting and important.

Where, Oh Where Are All the Voters?

I am the first to admit that I make my share of mistakes. Just ask my wife, children, friends, co-workers. … You get the picture.

But unlike 79% of eligible Hoosiers who did not take a few minutes to vote on primary Election Day, I did cast my ballot on May 4. And I’ll be there on November 2 when the general election rolls around. More people will decide to be part of the process at that time, but the numbers will still be way lower than what one would expect. People should vote — not because it’s their duty (well, maybe it is), but it’s a right and a privilege to help choose your government representatives. OK, that’s the end of the soapbox.

In this space earlier this month, I was swept up in the 2008 election euphoria (40% turnout due to the Democrat primary battle for president) and predicted 30% or more participation this time around. Didn’t happen. Not even close. The totals sunk back to traditional levels for non-presidential primary years. That is a real shame.

For those looking to be informed now, the Chamber’s IBRG continues to update its election report with results and analysis. In addition, the state released some numbers yesterday. Included in its info:

Data compiled by the Indiana Election Division from post-election reports filed by Indiana’s 92 counties show 21 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2010 primary election. Of those who voted, 11 percent cast an absentee ballot.

Voter turnout for the 2010 primary election was slightly higher than the 2006 primary, when 19 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In the 2004 primary, voter turnout was 21 percent, and in 2002 was 22 percent. Due to the heavily contested Democratic Presidential primary in 2008, voter turnout was an unprecedented 40 percent.

The newly released figures show a 54 percent increase in absentee voting compared to the 2006 primary election, the most recent primary election with a similar voter turnout to 2010. In this year’s primary 94,671 Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot. Of those, 48,666 voters cast their ballot in person at a county clerk’s office or satellite voting office. The remaining 46,005 ballots were cast by postal mail or by traveling board.

In 2006, 7 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot in the primary. In the 2004 primary, 6 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot, and in the 2002 primary, 7 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot. In 2008, 11 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot in the primary. 

And the Voter Turnout Is …

One of the primary (that’s primary as in most signficant, not the May election) questions each Election Day is: What was the voter turnout?

As we await some of those numbers for today (we do know that approximately 92,000 people voted early or by mail, compared to 61,000 doing the same in 2006), a little history and reflection on the historic jump in participation we saw two years ago when the Obama-Clinton primary fight generated national attention.

In 2006 (a better comparison to this year as the most recent mid-term election), nearly 850,000 Hoosiers cast ballots. That’s 19,000 of registered voters. The top county vote percentages were in Benton (42%) and Martin (41%). In 24 counties, the vote percentages were in the teens.

Two years later, the votes in Indiana doubled to 1.7 million. There were 185,000 absentee ballots that year. Five counties (Greene, Lake, Martin, Henry and Vermillion) had at least half their eligible voters go to the polls and the lowest turnout number was 33% in several counties. (In November 2008, the vote percentage surged to an amazing 62%.)

What about the previous primary elections since the turn of the century? Amazing consistency. 2004, 21% turnout; 2002, 22%; and 2000, 19.5%.

Prediction for this time around: We’ll beat the 20% range of most years, not reach the 40% of 2008 but close more than half of that gap. In other words, lower 30s for a percentage. Too optimistic or a sign that voters are not happy and want to have their say?