Who votes in Special Elections?

It is a commonly held belief in the world of politics that the only folks who vote in local special elections (to fill a vacancy in a state legislative seat, for example) are those devoted and committed voters who are fully engaged in the political process and the workings of their municipal, county, and state government.  This assertion obviously makes sense, and is supported by the fact that voter turnout rates for such elections are lower than those for almost any other type of election.

But is this assertion correct?  I’ve analyzed and written about nothing but special, runoff, and local elections for almost two years, and I want to assemble as much detailed information as possible to fully understand the composition of this unique electorate.  Therefore, whenever the data is readily available, I’m going to try to verify these assumptions about Special Elections by identifying the most dedicated voters in a jurisdiction beforehand, and then comparing this to those who voted.  In short, I want to answer the question: Who votes in local special elections?

My first opportunity to do this is with Tuesday’s Special Election in Georgia State Senate District #54, which was previewed here.  Obviously, the most dedicated voters aren’t just those who participate in November, but who go to the polls for primaries and runoffs as well.  In Georgia in 2016, this means participating in the Presidential Preference Primary in March, the regular primary for Congressional, state legislative, and county offices in May, and primary runoff elections in July.  So using the state’s voter database and Voter History files, I identified those 7,342 voters in the district who cast ballots in all three of those elections.  If our conventional political wisdom is correct, these folks are our “expected voters.”

In Georgia’s SD #54, who are these “expected voters?”

Here’s the breakdown by county:

Given this breakdown, it’s not surprising that four of the five Special Election candidates are from Whitfield County.  But is it possible that that vote could be split enough to allow Conda Goodson, who lives in Crandall (Murray County) to sneak into the runoff?

They are almost evenly split by gender:

Now, by party:

The party composition is overwhelmingly Republican, which is not surprising given the history of the district.  However, there were no Democratic races subject to a July runoff in either Gordon or Pickens counties, meaning that Dem voters are probably underrepresented here.  In the other two counties, there also weren’t any Democratic runoffs, but there was voting in a Superior Court Judge contest, which is nonpartisan.  Therefore, consistent voters in Murray and Whitfield counties who are Democrats are likely reflected here, but under the nonpartisan designation.

If Democratic party voters are indeed underrepresented in this sample, but vote in larger numbers on Tuesday, that will likely benefit Debby Peppers, who has been the candidate who has most aggressively courted Democratic voters in the district.

Here is the distribution by age, which I find amazing.  Look at the percentage of committed voters who are 65 and older!:

The average age of these “expected voters” is 61, and the median age is 64.  I’ve done similar analyses of the age distribution of special election voters, and I’m always amazed at the percentage of voters who are 65 and older.

And finally, here is the breakdown of these regular voters by zip code, with the top 12 areas shown:

Obviously, once the voter history information is available for Tuesday’s Special Election, we will know how many of these “expected voters” actually voted, and we will also be able to determine the demographic and geographic profile of these actual voters.  Which means we can start to definitively answer the question: Who votes in Special Elections?

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