This Week's Primary Turnout Has Some State Democrats Worried

Jun 10, 2021

The low turnout in this week's Democratic primary is causing some Democrats to worry about a lack of enthusiasm.

Only 8% of registered voters cast a ballot in the Democratic primary this week. That’s better than the 2009 primary for governor, when turnout was just over 6% and Democrats ended up losing to Bob McDonnell. But it’s lower than four years ago.

Democratic strategist Ben Tribbett says the 10% turnout in the 2017 Democratic primary was a show of enthusiasm.

"Ed Gillespie in 2017 received more votes by far than any Republican candidate for governor in history because Republicans were energized after electing Donald Trump," Tribbett says. "But Ralph Northam blew him out of the water because the Democratic energy was so high in comparison."

So are Republicans energized? Former Republican Delegate David Ramadan, now at George Mason's Schar School, says the numbers don't show that.

“Half a million people showed up to vote in the primaries," Ramadan says. "That's not a small number, and when you compare it to the Republican convention that had 30,000 people show up we're talking about a huge difference and a huge advantage that the Democrats have over the Republicans in the general election."

Before 2009, you have to go all the way back to 1977 to gauge turnout in a Democratic primary for governor. In that election, 24% of registered voters turned out and Democrats chose Henry Howell as the nominee. But don't take that as a sign of enthusiasm. Howell lost to Republican John Dalton.

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