Kansas primary elections are usually quiet, sleepy affairs, drawing very little attention – even in Kansas. But this year, the state primary garnered national attention, with record turnout. At Kansas Voting Data, we decided to take a deep dive into the what – and more importantly, the who – accounts for this record-setting election.
We begin by stating the obvious: the ballot question put before voters for the primary election, which would have removed the right to an abortion from the state constitution, was an issue that motivated voters on both sides of the issue. Normally primary elections are restricted to voters declaring a party affiliation, and at that, often there are few competitive races. This year the election was open to all registered voters, with a highly-polarizing issue to be decided.
This covers the what. Now, the who.
While who you vote for is private, whether you voted – that’s public. And based on that information, we can identify voting trends based on a number of geographic and demographic factors.
Keep in mind that Kansas elections are administered at the county level, each with their own timelines and resources, some of which are limited. So even now, more than a month after the primary election, detailed voter data from some counties have been slow to come in. But with 91 of 105 counties reporting, we have accumulated enough data to gain some valuable insights, and even though 14 counties are missing, we know from official turnout numbers released by the Kansas Secretary of State that we can identify 96.6% of those who voted.
For comparison purposes, we choose the 2018 primary, as it is the most recent similar election (i.e., a midterm primary). Based on the most current available data, there are 1,957,554 voters on file in Kansas, with 911,052 we have been able to readily identify based on available data. Based on these data, overall turnout for the August 2022 primary topped 46.5% (once all data are available, this number will be slightly higher). For the 2018 primary, 457,598 voted out of 1,801,023 voters cast ballots, for a turnout of 27.1%. The turnout for the 2022 primary was 19.4% higher than in 2018.
Other notable observations:
- The average age for the 2018 primary was 59.3; for the 2022 primary it was 53.2.
- In 2018, 255,218 women cast ballots, or 52.9% of the total votes cast; this year 507,101 women voted in the primary (nearly twice as many as in the last primary), for 55.8% of ballots cast.
The surge in women voting tracks with a significant uptick in voter registration by women that began in early May, when the draft Supreme Court decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was leaked. During the intervening time leading up to the primary, new voter registrations skewed as much as plus-20% female – a trend that continues into September.
The bottom line: turnout for the 2022 Kansas primary election was 19.4% higher, about six years younger in age, with the turnout for women three percentage points higher.
It seems safe to assume that the ballot question was a major driver of voter turnout for the 2022 primary election, with the nature of that question further driving participation by younger and female voters – an illustration that while voters may not be motivated by individual candidates, they will respond to issues they are passionate about.