Washington State Primary Results: A Glimpse of Nov. 6?

Washington State Primary Results: A Glimpse of Nov. 6?

By Sean Trende - August 8, 2012

One of the interesting things about Tuesday night's primary results in Washington state is that they are the first real look we have at the 2012 election results. As I explained two years ago, there is a longstanding tendency there for the parties to receive the share of the two-party vote in each race in November that they received in the late summer.

For example, the following table provides the Republican share of the two-party vote in the 2008 primaries, and in the general election:

This table provides the Republican share of the two-party vote in the 2010 primaries, and in the general election:

In 2008, the results were, on average, spot-on, while in 2010 Democrats did, on average, two points better than their primary showing. If you go back further, the same pattern continues -- there is a slight tendency for Democrats to outperform their primary showing, but it isn’t a substantial one, nor is it a consistent one.

Overall in 2010, Republicans mounted competitive (though losing) efforts in D+3 PVI districts (in other words, the presidential share in the district in the preceding two elections minus the presidential share nationally in the preceding two elections) like the 2nd, while D+5 districts like the 6th and 9th were on the outskirts of competitiveness.

In 2008, however, Republicans weren’t competitive in any of these districts, and very nearly lost their own Democratic-leaning seat in the King County suburbs (the 8th).

So what happened last night? About what we’d expect to happen in an evenly matched year. Chart 3 lists the results, and the PVI is based off of the 2008 elections (I couldn’t calculate overall PVI because we don’t have the Kerry-Bush numbers for these districts).

The marginally Republican 3rd and 8th districts don’t look at all competitive this time around -- although we might expect them to be competitive in a year like 2006 or 2008. On the other hand, Republicans will likely be disappointed in Democratic-leaning seats like the 1st, 6th, and 10th districts, with showings in the mid-40s. All three of these seats are open, and would likely have been highly competitive in a year like 2010. The one caveat for the 1st District is that Democrats had a heavily competitive primary featuring some big spending candidates, which might have boosted their turnout more than usual. Still, it would take an unusually large turnaround for Republicans to win this race.

Perhaps most disappointingly for Republicans, it looks like Jay Inslee (pictured) has to be regarded as something of a favorite in the fall gubernatorial race, extending the Democrats’ 28-year win streak.

Overall, this suggests stability in the fall elections, something we haven’t seen in quite some time. Assuming no massive shifts in the political dynamics between now and Election Day, Republicans will probably fall off their 2010 performance somewhat, though not by enough to seriously endanger their House majority.

Unfortunately, Obama and Romney were not on the ballot in the state, so we don’t get much of a sense as to how they are matching up in the state. The overall picture probably suggests something that is off of the 2010 results, though probably not as close as 2004, either. In other words, it’s what just about everyone has been predicting about 2012: a very close result. 

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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