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Election Politics

Primary early vote points to signs of Trump-era political shifts in El Paso

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El Paso is showing signs of partisan realignment since the election of President Trump, according to an El Paso Matters analysis of early voting data for Tuesday’s primary elections. Early voting ran Feb. 18-28.

The Republican early voting electorate looks much different than the 2016 GOP primary voters in El Paso. The changing electorate has good news and bad news for a party that has long struggled with El Paso voters.

The best news for the Republicans is that four out of five early voters in their primary – about 7,300 voters – didn’t vote at all in the 2016 primary elections in El Paso. About 5,500 of them were registered in El Paso four years ago but sat out the primaries. These are people who weren’t engaged enough with either party to vote in primaries four years ago, even though both Democrats and Republicans had hotly contested presidential races that year.

The next bit of good news for Republicans is that one in nine of their primary early voters this year – about 1,000 people – voted in the Democratic primary four years ago.

The bad news for Republicans is that very few of the El Pasoans who voted in their primary four years ago have returned so far this year. Only 3 percent of people who voted in the 2016 Republican primary in El Paso and are still registered – fewer than 900 voters – cast an early vote in this year’s GOP primary. For Democrats, by contrast, more than 32 percent of their 2016 voters who are still registered cast early votes in their party primary.

Far more 2016 Republican voters cast ballots in this year’s Democratic primary early voting than in GOP early voting. Almost 1,600 Republican voters from 2016 cast a Democratic early vote this year, compared to the fewer than 900 who voted in GOP early voting. 

Two-thirds of 2016 Republican primary voters in El Paso who are still registered have not yet cast a ballot this year, compared to about one-third of 2016 Democratic voters. Those voters can go to the polls on Tuesday.

Democrats are seeing lots of new primary voters this year. About 45 percent of Democratic early voters – almost 15,000 people, including more than 11,000 who were registered in El Paso four years ago – didn’t vote in either El Paso primary in 2016. Many of these likely are voters who’ve become more activated since Trump’s election.

Of course, El Paso Democrats are likely more motivated to cast primary ballots this year, largely because the party has a hotly contested presidential primary this year. Although Republicans can choose from seven presidential candidates, Trump is effectively unopposed for his party’s nomination. 

Democrats also have a number of contested local elections, while the only local contested Republican races are for El Paso’s two congressional seats.

Another way to look at possible partisan changes in El Paso is to compare the number of voters in each primary early voting who didn’t vote in the Nov. 8, 2016, presidential election. 

These voters come in two types – those who were registered to vote in El Paso before the last presidential election but didn’t cast a ballot, and those who registered after Trump’s election. Republicans do well among the first group; Democrats do well among the second group.

Voters by sex

Women make up the majority of voters in both party primaries – 55 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans.

Voters by age

Older voters dominate the Democratic early voting turnout, with people over age 60 accounting for more than half the total votes. The Republican age distribution is more evenly spread among different groups, but Democrats have far more voters in each age group than Republicans.

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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