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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Making sense of the Special Elections

Last Tuesday, there was a special election to fill a congressional seat in the 4th district of Kansas.  The GOP candidate won by 7%.  That has led to a ton of analysis and a great deal of predictions about what this means for 2018.  Finally, though, the real understanding of the election is possible because we have final numbers.  Here's the key.  Last Tuesday 120,000 voters cast ballots.  In November of 2016, there were 275,000 voters in the same district.  That means that turnout was down by over 50%.

Let's stop there for now.  More than half of the people who voted in November did not bother to come out and vote this time.  That is not unusual for a special election.  Those elections often pass by unnoticed by many voters.  The low turnout, though, also means that it is impossible to draw conclusions about the future moves of the electorate from a special election unless is it a major upset (like when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's senate seat in MA).  Even then, these special elections mean little for the future.

On Tuesday, there will be another special election, this time in Georgia.  Despite cheerleading by the media for one Democrat, the likely result will be that the top two finishers among the 15 or so people running will go into a runoff in a few months.  That result too will mean little.

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