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Compared to four years ago, 44% more people voted in the Republican primary over the weekend, and the number of Democratic primary voters more than doubled in the 15 counties with the most registered voters. During the entire first week of early voting, turnout in the Republican primary is up 14% from the last gubernatorial primary. Democratic turnout is up 85%.

“I’ll be blunt,” began Gov. Greg Abbott in a fundraising email. “Democratic voter turnout is surging statewide during Early Voting,” and Democrats are voting in numbers that “should shock every conservative to their core.”

Actually, both parties are setting records for early voting turnout in a gubernatorial election year.

Chart by Visualizer
Chart by Visualizer

Based on the number of people casting ballots through the first week of early voting, Republican turnout trails only 2016, and Democratic turnout trails only 2008, a pair of years featuring unresolved, competitive presidential primaries. It’s true that more Democrats have voted early this week than during the first week of 2014 and 2010 combined. It’s also true that Republican early-voting turnout has increased in every gubernatorial election cycle since at least 1998.

As wonderful, or threatening, as all this sounds, there’s a stark reality lurking behind these buoyant turnout figures: south of 4% of registered voters have gone to the polls.

There are nearly 10M registered voters living in those 15 counties, equivalent to the population of Michigan. That record-smashing Democratic primary turnout is equivalent to the population of Grand Rapids.

Earlier this month, we explored the dismal track record of primary participation in Texas, especially in gubernatorial – or, as the Washington pundits call it, mid-term – election years. In 2014, Texas ranked 38th out of the 47 states that held a statewide primary election. In three of the states we beat out, only one party had a statewide primary. Texas has not ranked in the top half of states since 1978, when it placed 20th out of 41. Over the last 10 gubernatorial election years, primary participation increased 21% while the voting-age population more than doubled.

Chart by Visualizer

That leads us to the second stark reality about record-setting turnout numbers. The vast majority of current primary voters are recent primary voters. Nearly 88% of Republican primary voters and 72% of Democratic primary voters so far have voted in a recent primary of the same party, according to ongoing analyses (PDF) by Republican strategist Derek Ryan. “New” voters comprise about 10% of Republican primary votes cast and 22% of Democratic primary votes cast. This implies, particularly for the Republican primary, that the growth in primary voting is mostly people voting earlier than in recent years. The fact that one fifth of Democratic primary voters having no recent primary history is encouraging, but it pales to 2008, when turnout more than quadrupled over the previous presidential primary.

Crossover voting has been minor. Just 3% of Republican primary voters and 6% of Democratic primary voters’ most recent primary history is with the other party, according to Ryan’s analysis.

With the final week of early voting underway, the number of “new” primary voters may rise. In each of the last two gubernatorial election cycles, more than half of the early vote was cast during the second week, typically building each day until Friday, the last and biggest day for in-person early voting. For that to repeat, more first-time primary voters need to come to the polls.

Meanwhile, somewhere around 15M Texans eligible to vote probably won’t, either early or on Election Day. No matter what happens, Texas will rank first in the nation in primary turnout. That’s the benefit of holding the earliest mid-term election primary in the nation.

©2018 Texas Election Source LLC