Tens of millions of dollars will be spent this year in an effort to boost turnout in the November elections. But the longer-term trends suggest that any marginal increase in what is expected to be a low-turnout election won’t have much effect on one of the chronic problems of America’s politics. The Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE) recently issued a dreary summation about participation in the primary elections so far this year. Based on the 25 states that have already held their primaries, the report chronicled a pattern of voter indifference and, in some cases, record low turnout. In 15 of the 25 states with statewide primaries, turnout was the lowest ever, and only three of the 25 saw an increase over the last mid-term election in 2010. One of those that produced increased turnout was Mississippi, but that happened during the extraordinarily contested run-off election between Sen. Thad Cochran (R) and his tea party challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Taken together, just 15 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots — or 18.2 million people out of 122.8 million eligible. Turnout was 17 percentage points lower than the most recent high-water mark of 32 percent in 1966. Democrats were down 14.5 points from their 1970 high, or 20.9 percent of eligible citizens, and Republicans were down five points from their 1966 high of 13 percent.
The figures come at a time of fierce national debate about voting laws — from efforts designed to make it easier to vote to actions in Republican-led states that could make it less easy to vote. But the CSAE report raises questions about the practical effect of such changes as same-day registration, no-fault absentee ballots or voting by mail.