The Turnout Race

In my post-mortem on the Cicilline-Doherty race in last week's Phoenix, I noted that while turnout in the First Congressional District race was lower than it was in the last presidential year (2008), the drop-off was not as steep in a handful of key Democratic bastions - Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls.

That could explain, in part, why Congressman Cicilline racked up a far larger margin of victory - 12 points - than the polls predicted.

I neglected to mention in that piece (mea culpa) that the counting wasn't yet final - elections officials still needed to tally provisional ballots and manually count some ballots that didn't register on Election Day because of equipment malfunction.

Those ballots didn't change the outcome in a substantial way; my premise still holds. But I've got some updated numbers. And after looking at them more deeply, I've got some additional observations.

  • The drop-off in voter turnout - which stood at 9.8 percent last week, before the provisional and manual ballots were counted - was just 3.2 percent in the end. In a blue state, the higher the turnout the better for a Democrat like Cicilline.
  • The declines in Providence and Pawtucket turnout are negligible, at final count. In Pawtucket, the difference between 2008 and 2012 was just 152 ballots - less than 1 percent. In the larger Providence, it was 821 votes - about 1.7 percent. In comparatively small Central Falls, another Democratic bastion, what looked like a 1 percent jump between 2008 and 2012 last week stands at 7.8 percent now. On election night, I tweeted that the Cicilline camp was hoping a lively mayor's race in Central Falls would work to its advantage. Looks like it did.
  • Another important urban center for Cicilline was Newport. Here, the campaign didn't fare as well, with turnout dropping 6.4 percent from 2008.
  • Whatever the turnout, a look at the Cicilline v. Doherty matchup precinct-by-precinct confirms what seemed clear on election night: the urban, Democratic base came home for Cicilline in a big way. His campaign reports that it lost no precincts in Providence or Woonsocket, just one each in Newport, Pawtucket, and East Providence, and three in North Providence.
  • For Doherty, the turnout picture was mixed. In his hometown of Cumberland, which he won 56 percent to 39 percent, turnout was up 1.5 percent from 2008 - a boost, but not as large as he might have hoped. In Portsmouth, which Doherty won 52 to 41 percent, turnout was down 2.8 percent.
  • In three other suburban communities critical to Doherty's campaign - Lincoln, Smithfield, and North Smithfield - turnout was up (in one case) or down (in two) only slightly. If the suburbs did not look fondly on Cicilline - and they did not, if the vote totals are any indication - there was no great swell in turnout to overcome the incumbent's urban base.


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