Analyzing What Turnout May Look Like for This Year's Primary Elections

May 10, 2019

The primary is only one month away, but most voters don’t even know — or care — about the election.

The last presidential election saw 72% of participation of voters in Virginia. The last election for governor had a 47% turnout. But the last General Election primary? Only 8% of voters participated.

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says that has an influence on the outcome.

Credit Virginia Public Access Project

“The smaller the turnout, the more extreme that participation is going to be," he says. "It creates an environment perhaps where centrists don’t do very well. But it does give political loyalists a particularly high opportunity to be heard.”

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University warns that 8% is a statewide number, and the vast majority of seats have no competition.

“What we should be looking at is turnout in those contested races rather than turnout across the entire Commonwealth. So 8% isn’t great," Kidd explains. "But more voters need to be given more choices, and the more choices more voters have the more voters will actually turn out and vote.”

Numbers compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project show voter turnout for primaries is actually much higher than participation in other methods of choosing candidates: firehouse primaries or party conventions.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.