To switch between maps showing which party had a greater turnout and the total turnout by county, click the Visible layers box atop the map. Hover over a county or click on it to see its turnout data.
Energized Democrats and several highly competitive races drove turnout in this year’s primary to the greatest level in a midterm election in New Jersey in more than a decade.
An analysis of unofficial election turnouts with nearly all the votes counted shows that about 21 percent of all those registered as Democrat or Republican cast ballots for each party’s nominations for U.S. Senate, the state’s dozen seats in the House of Representatives, unexpired state Assembly terms, and a host of county and local offices. While that is lower than the turnout in either last year’s gubernatorial primary or the 2016 presidential primary, it is higher than in any of the three previous midterm elections, when either Senate or House seats topped the ballot.
Also unique this year is that Democratic turnout in a midterm surpassed that of Republicans for the first time since at least 2006. About 21 percent of Democrats voted in this year’s primary, compared with about 20 percent of Republicans. In each of the three prior midterms, GOP turnout was higher. The Democrats’ previous high midterm turnout was in 2006, the first year Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was on the ballot for that seat, when 19.2 percent of Democrats voted.
“The turnout really showed enthusiasm among Democrats,” said Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist. “The Democrats are energized.”
New Jersey Democrats have been revved up since 2016. In the presidential primary that year, more than half of registered Democrats cast ballots, compared with 43.4 percent of Republicans. In last year’s gubernatorial primary, close to 26 percent of Democrats voted, while just 21 percent of Republicans did.
“It’s Trump-related,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “There’s a continuing trend of Democratic enthusiasm, at least at the primary level.”
House on fire
While years in which the Senate seat tops the ballot in a federal election tend to have a higher turnout because there is greater interest in that seat, this year’s turnout was driven by excitement over the House races, Murray said.
The ballot included the largest field of House candidates in at least two decades, and two of the 12 House seats — in the 2nd and 11th Districts — are open with Republicans Frank LoBiondo and Rodney Frelinghuysen, respectively, retiring. And Democrats have high hopes of flipping both from red to blue, as well as the 7th in Central Jersey, where Republican Rep. Leonard Lance faces a strong and well-funded challenge from Democrat Tom Malinowski. The party has also fielded strong candidates in the two other red districts: the 3rd in South Jersey and its northern neighbor the 4th along the Shore.
A number of grassroots organizations grew up after the 2016 general election and have been working for change, particularly in the 7th and 11th, where some moderate Republicans and Democrats were disappointed with the presidential election results and have pushed both Lance and Frelinghuysen to moderate some of their votes.
The percentage of Democrats voting in the primary exceeded that of Republicans in both Hunterdon and Morris counties, where the GOP dominates and Republicans tend to be highly educated and socially moderate. Democratic turnout surpassed 34 percent in Hunterdon, the highest in the state, followed by 31 percent in Morris.
Morris Republicans also turned out in the greatest proportion, almost 27 percent. The crowded contests for the nominations in the 11th District drove each party’s turnouts. Mikie Sherrill of Montclair was the Democratic victor. She’ll face Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber of Morris Plains in November.