Foster Town Building

The Very Different Primary Voters of the RI Dems and RI GOP

Foster Town Building
The Foster Town Building (via Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow’s primary is likely to feature two very different electorates. Looking at voters in the last three elections, what immediately leaps out is that the Republicans and the Democrats have very different voters in their worlds.

For one thing, cities and towns in the Republican primary tend to carry similar weights, disproportional to their percentage of statewide turnout. That’s to say that the Republican voters in Providence are about equal to those in Portsmouth; in the Republican primary, voters from Providence and Portsmouth each make up roughly 4% of the Republican primary’s statewide votes. That doesn’t hold true for Democrats. Portsmouth voters tend to be close to 1% of the Democratic primary, whereas Providence voters are more like one-fifth.

What does that mean? Well, it means Republicans are able to cobble together a victorious coalition by pulling in a dozen or so of the smaller towns and then trying to run up the numbers in Warwick, Cranston, and North Kingstown. Democrats really have to focus heavily on the urban core, the swathe of the state travelling down Route 122 and along Route 1 from Woonsocket to Warwick and out to West Warwick and Coventry. It makes little sense for Democrats to spend much time on towns like Foster or New Shoreham, except for publicity reasons. These are towns whose voters make up less than 1% of the total primary voter universe.

But what really stands out is that the voters who tend to show up in the Democratic primary tend to be proportional with turnout overall. Thus if a town’s total primary voters represent 3% of all primary voters, that’s pretty much the percentage we should find them making up of all Democratic voters. Small towns tend to punch above their weight in the Republican primary, and thus matter a whole lot more.

This could easily point a serious issue for the Rhode Island GOP, that its candidates are being forged mostly in a small town environment, even as Rhode Islanders are mostly living in urban areas. That said, they’ve managed to take the Governor’s office in four out of five elections, but even with that track record, whomever emerges from the Democratic primary will be known to a solid cohort of voters, far more than whomever wins in the Republican primary.

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