Voter Turnout Will Be Crucial In Toss-Up Special Election

Mar 12, 2018

Voters head to the polls Tuesday in the special election to fill the empty seat in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District south of Pittsburgh.

They’ll choose between three candidates – former federal prosecutor Conor Lamb (D - Mt. Lebanon), state Rep. Rick Saccone (R - Elizabeth), and Drew Miller (L - South Side). The winner will complete the rest of former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy’s term (R - Upper St. Clair).

Public polls show a statistical tie between Lamb and Saccone, according to RealClearPolitics and Talking Points Memo. Some give the Democrat a slight lead, and others give the Republican the edge.

Emerson College professor Spencer Kimball oversaw a poll in early March that found Lamb had a small lead within the poll’s margin of error. In essence, Kimball said, the race is a toss-up and could go either way.

“Just looking at all of these numbers, the consumer of these polls should just be saying, ‘This race is too close to call, my vote will count, and I should get out and vote,'” Kimball said.

Big spending on TV and radio ads could boost voter turnout, Kimball noted.

“One of the reasons people don’t vote is that they’re not aware of the election,” Kimball said. “I don’t think that will be the case here in Pennsylvania. I expect to see a decent turnout of 40 to 50 percent.”

According to Kimball, voter participation varies widely in special elections, and can drop below 30 percent in off-year elections.

Spencer’s research shows that Lamb has an advantage in Allegheny County, which accounts for a plurality of voters in the 18th, and among younger voters. Saccone performs better in Westmoreland County, which has the second-highest number of voters, and with older age group.

The 18th District stretches from the southwest corner of the state east past Ligonier. It includes parts of Allegheny, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland counties.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.