Trump-endorsed challenger Harriet Hageman handily defeated Republican Wyoming At-Large Representative Liz Cheney in the GOP primary by an initial margin of roughly 66%-29% on Tuesday. Cheney is one of Donald Trump’s strongest Republican critics in Congress and previously served in a leadership position within the House Republican Conference. Turnout was astronomical for a midterm primary, totaling ~90% of Trump’s votes in the 2020 presidential general election and slotting in at nearly a 50% increase from the 2018 primary. Hageman’s victory was relatively uniform throughout the state, only losing Teton County (a haven for skiing and tourism) and Albany County (home to The University of Wyoming in Laramie) to Cheney.
Not by coincidence, these were the two counties that Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election.
Turnout in the Democratic Wyoming At-Large House Primary, however, was miserable. Primary turnout dropped by ~60% compared to 2018, and many counties netted laughably small numbers of votes on the Democratic ballot, including Niobrara (9 votes), Weston (35 votes), and Crook (43 votes). In these counties, voters selected the Republican ballot at incredible rates: 99.2% in Niobrara, 98.7% in Weston, and 98.6% in Crook. Although these areas are extremely red, Democrats generally make up closer to 10% of votes. Here is what went down on Tuesday.
1. Democrats Turned out in Droves to vote for Liz Cheney
In heavily Democratic Teton County, Liz Cheney won 5,955 votes in this Tuesday’s GOP Primary, almost 40% more than Donald Trump, her party’s Presidential nominee, tallied in the 2020 general election. This statistic alone indicates a significant level of cross-party voting by Democrats, but was this strategic voting prevalent enough to influence the eventual topline in the race? The answer is yes, significantly. Liz Cheney received 49.3k votes across the state in the GOP Primary, and among those who voted in 2020, we estimate these voters split about 79-21 for Biden. Only ~9% of Biden voters chose to vote in the Democratic Primary in 2022, dwarfed by the ~51% of Biden voters who instead chose to cross party lines and support Cheney. White, upper-income Democrats in Teton County were especially likely to scorn their own party’s primary (only ~4% of Biden-voters in Teton County voted in the Democratic primary), while more Hispanic Democrats in Sweetwater and Carbon Counties didn’t get the memo (~21% of Biden-voters in these counties voted in the Democratic primary).
Fast Stat: Our modeling estimates that over half of 2020 Biden voters turned out to back Liz Cheney last Tuesday, more than 5 times the number who came out to vote in the Democratic primary.
2. Cheney Performed Miserably With Trump-voters
Given that the magnitude of split party voting almost certainly exceeded expectations, some may be surprised that Cheney still performed so poorly. Cheney’s poor result is anchored in the fact that she barely won any Republicans. After all, a precinct-by-precinct analysis of Tom Rice’s results in the SC-07 primary revealed that he managed to win 10-20% of votes in even the reddest and most rural precincts (in an election where cross-party voting was far less prevalent). Cheney, however, only won 4% of votes in Campbell County 14-02 and 5% in Campbell County 14-01. Although these precincts were chosen as anecdotes because they are nearly exclusively Republican, 6% of voters still chose Joe Biden in 2020, meaning that Cheney certainly won even less than 4% of Trump voters. Although our analyses indicate that Cheney faired a bit better with Trump-voters in areas with higher population density, such as Laramie and Natrone County, we still estimate that only ~5% of 2022 Trump-voters broke for Liz Cheney in 2022, compared to the ~55% who voted for Harriet Hageman (~4% voted for another candidate in the GOP Primary and ~36% stayed home).
Fast Stat: Our modeling estimates Liz Cheney lost the two-person vote to Harriet Hageman by about a 93%-7% margin among Trump voters.
3. Turnout Was Equally Supercharged on Both Sides
We estimate that ~60% of Biden voters and ~64% of Trump voters turned out to vote in the 2022 WY US House Primary. Most Biden voters voted in the GOP House Primary (about ~85%), and effectively every Trump voter chose to vote in the GOP Primary. The massive turnout dwarfs what we have seen in other states, even those with high-interest elections; as a comparison, GOP 2022 primary turnout was only ~50% in Arizona, ~40% in Michigan, ~40% in Pennsylvania, and ~34% in Ohio compared to the 2020 Presidential Election.
Fast Stat: Although Wyoming Republicans set a 2022 record for the highest primary turnout (~64%), Wyoming Democrats also turned out at higher levels in the Republican primary (~51%) than actual Republicans did in any other state this year.
4. Wyoming’s Heavy Republican Lean Led to Such a Lopsided Margin
Although most Republicans able to convince over half of Biden-voters to come out and back them would be able to win a Republican primary with any sort of support from their own party, Hageman still handily defeated Cheney by dominating her with Republican voters. Since Trump defeated Biden in Wyoming by a ~70%-27% margin in 2020, these Republican voters have much more power than Democrats in the state. Wyoming Democrats truly gave a valiant effort to try to save Cheney, and their attempts would have at least made the final margin much closer if they were not so outnumbered in the state.
Fast Stat: Even if Wyoming’s partisan lean was hypothetically matched Ohio’s (a state Trump only won by 8% over Biden), Hageman still dominated Cheney with Trump voters enough to win by a comfortable 53%-47% margin.
The author used county-level data to build a simple model to estimate how people chose to vote in the 2022 WY House Primary based on their 2020 Presidential General Election vote. The author estimated this probability by creating a set of linear regression models with pegged intercepts predicting 2022 House Primary county candidate vote totals from 2020 Presidential General Election county candidate vote totals. One can think of the regression’s beta-values as the probability that if there were one more Biden/Trump 2020 voter added to a county, they would end up voting for each of Cheney, Hageman, or a Democrat in the 2022 WY House Primary election (depending on which regression the beta value is apart of).
The model makes a few common-sense assumptions for simplicity, as detailed below. Since assumptions are made, figures from the model are meant to be interpreted as estimates, not exact values.
1. No voters participated in the 2022 WY House Primary election without previously voting in the 2020 Presidential Election.
2. No voters voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and participated in the WY Democratic Primary in 2022.
3. No voters voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and Harriet Hageman in 2022.