Connecticut primary voters headed to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 10 to choose candidates to represent their respective party on the November 2010 ballot. Just 25 percent of eligible Connecticut voters exercised their right to do so, which caused some observers (this author included) to publicly grumble about the fact that the Nutmeg State primary is held in the dead of August.
August is a lousy month to do much of anything, let alone vote. It’s hot and miserably humid. Getting people on the telephone to do business is hard and tons of e-mail messages return with the dreaded vacation auto-reply.
People don’t want to be thinking about the future of the country in August—they want to be reading the latest best-selling novel, walking barefoot through the surf of the ocean, or listening to one of the shamelessly contrived “summer anthem” songs on the radio (Case in point: Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” never fell below #3 on the Billboard charts, including six straight weeks as the most popular song in the nation).
But with voter turnout information from the September 2010 primaries included in the dataset – compiled from various government agencies and newspapers across the nation – it turns out that the conventional wisdom doesn’t match the facts.
After compiling voter turnout data from the 49 states with some form of primary contest, the average voter turnout for eligible voters was 25 percent. Connecticut voters can be comforted to know that they are as apathetic as everyone else.
Judging voter turnout by month did not seem to matter, either. Among all primaries, August and September each tied for a participation rate of 28 percent. July primaries were again the least well-attended, with just 20 percent of those eligible casting their votes.
It is true that some states didn’t have as many contests as others—30 states had fewer contested races for statewide offices than Connecticut and the data clearly reveals an increase in voter turnout as the number of contested races grows. But controlling for the number of statewide contests on the ballot, June had the highest at an average turnout of 34 percent while May, August, and September all had an average voter turnout of 29 percent.
It’s fair to point out that these aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons. Each state has its own quirks about who can participate in primaries, the methods of voting available, and process for gaining ballot access, which influences how many contests are truly contests.
The significance of primaries varies greatly as well from case to case. In Wyoming, the Republican primary for Governor was hotly contested and widely viewed as the de facto general election, spurring the participation of a whopping 67 percent of Republicans. The Republican gubernatorial primary in Rhode Island, however, is complicated by the state’s 4:1 Democratic registration advantage and the candidacy of former Republican U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who is running for Governor as an independent. Just 26 percent of GOP registrants cast a ballot for Governor in the Ocean State.
The data shows that Connecticut’s voting enthusiasm, or lack of it, is decidedly average compared to our neighbors across the country. It also seems that changing the date of the primary won’t change how little we care, either.
As comforting as average might be, at a time of economic turmoil at home and an increasingly bloody morass of a war abroad we should expect more from our neighbors. If world events over the last few years haven’t spurred a greater interest in civic affairs, what will? Amid all of this, it would seem baffling that even one eligible voter would stay home, let alone the majority of them.
Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC. Learn more or contact Heath with your comments about this article at www.heathwfahle.com.