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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Playing ‘what if’ on the presidential primary

Post-election analysis is a good time for “what ifs” and last Tuesday’s presidential primary was no exception. 

Like, what if Ted Cruz and John Kasich had not dropped out of the race just as the primary ballots went in the mail? Donald Trump may have come out on top, but maybe not so much as to collect all the Republican delegates to the national convention.

This speculation is supported somewhat by a comparison of a survey of voters in April by The Elway Poll. At that point, Trump and Cruz were each the choice of 15 percent of those surveyed, and Kasich was at 8 percent.

Hillary Clinton was at 32 percent and Bernie Sanders at 27 percent.

H. Stuart Elway compared those numbers to the overall results of the May 24 primary, combining the totals for all candidates, regardless of party just as the survey did. Remember voters don’t register by party, so they could choose any candidate on the ballot.

Looking at the results that way, Trump got 32 percent of the votes cast. Cruz got 5 percent and Kasich 4 percent. If one assumes those votes shifted to Trump, it covers most of his rise.

Trump was also the only candidate to gain between the poll and the election, Elway noted. Would he have been able to climb that far, that fast if Cruz remained in the race and his supporters – who dominated the caucuses two months earlier and the state GOP convention last weekend – had remained fired up? And what if Kasich had remained a viable haven for the Dan Evans and Rob McKenna wing of the party?

“I don’t think Trump would’ve got 75 percent of the Republican vote,” Elway said.

One can also ask what if the Democratic primary actually meant something? As it was, the state Democratic Party dissed the state presidential primary and played up the precinct caucuses. It couldn’t even earn the term “beauty contest” because people actually compete in those, and the candidates themselves didn’t acknowledge Washington was having a primary.

With the race still officially undecided, and actual delegates on the line, how much higher would the Democratic turnout have been? In the aftermath of Tuesday’s results, which were so different from the caucuses, some Sanders supporters were claiming many on their side didn’t vote because they knew it didn’t mean anything.

The results might’ve been different. Or not. Clinton and Sanders had about the same share of the overall presidential primary vote they did in the April Elway Poll.

Although some Washington voters believe that somewhere in the Bible or the U.S. Constitution it says they don’t have to tell nobody, no how, what party they support, a million and a half of them were willing to cast a ballot that required them to check a box above their name on the outer envelope that says, I’m a Democrat or I’m a Republican.

Between a Republican race that was over and a Democratic race that was unaffected, Elway said it was remarkable that anyone voted in the primary. “It’s kind of a testament to the good civic spirit in Washington, but also, the interest in the race.”

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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