California's Primary Voter Participation Expected To Hit Low

Photo by Jessica Levinson

Voter turnout in today's election is expected to set a record for the lowest participation in California's presidential primary history. The Field Poll, an independent public opinion survey, estimated that 6 million residents -- just 35 percent of registered voters -- are expected at the polls today:

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If borne out at the polls today, this would represent a steep decline in voter participation compared to the state's last presidential primary in 2008, when 57.7 percent of registered voters participated. It would also surpass the previous record turnout low of 41.9% set in the 1996 presidential primary.
The presumed low voter turnout is attributed to an uncontested Democratic primary and Mitt Romney's security with regard to his party's nomination, according to The Field Poll.

Propositions 28 and 29, which tackle term legislative limits and propose a cigarette increase, are also not expected to attract voters.

Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters suggests the propositions are "important unto themselves, perhaps, but not voter magnets."

Walters also argued voter apathy will continue to be a norm for future primaries.

"... Gov. Jerry Brown and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature have decreed that all future initiative ballot measures must go on the November ballot. They took the step to improve their chances this year of defeating a measure that would bar unions from collecting political money via payroll deductions."
Low voter participation at primaries is not an anomaly, as historic voter statistics show.

Years where there is an incumbent, such as President Bill Clinton or President George Bush, voter participation in primary elections was lower than in general elections.

Historical Voter Turnout, Primary Elections


You can scroll over the following chart to reveal voter turnout rate for primary elections. The dips in voter participation typically occur during midterm and primary elections, suggesting that many voters wait for general elections to hit the polls.

About the Author

I am a journalist and researcher, and have written numerous research and investigative pieces. My work has been published with several notable organizations, including Annenberg Digital News, CAMERA, KCET, the Middle East Forum, P...
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