Washington State Primary Turnout This Year Was Lowest Since 1990

Washington state held its fourth top-two primary on August 5. According to the Secretary of State’s web page, 2014 primary turnout was 31.15% of registered voters. This is the lowest Washington primary turnout since 1990.

Turnout in previous primaries has been: 2012 38.48%, 2010 40.97%, 2008 42.60%, 2006 38.80%, 2004 45.14%, 2002 34.21%, 2000 40.80%, 1998 35.29%, 1996 42.00%, 1994 34.54%, 1992 45.80%. These percentages are all from the Secretary of State’s web page. Old election returns earlier than 1992 are on the Secretary of State’s web page, but there is no turnout data. However, in 1990, the total number of votes cast for U.S. House in the primary was only 623,910, and there were 2,229,322 registered voters in Washington state in October 1990. The number of registered voters at the primary is not known, and the number of primary voters is not known, but the best estimate is that 1990 primary turnout was approximately 30%.

Washington used a blanket primary before 2004, and an open primary in 2004 and 2006.


Washington State Primary Turnout This Year Was Lowest Since 1990 — No Comments

  1. NO more extremist primaries — producing gerrymander MONSTERS.

    P.R. and nonpartisan App.V.

  2. For 1990, the turnout was 671K, which was 30.7% of the 2184K registered voters.

    Every 12 years, Washington has no statewide non-judicial races. Most state office races are in the the presidential year, and every 3rd non-presidential year there is no senate race. 1990, 2002, and 2014 are years with no non-judicial statewide races, and no senate races.

    In 1990, 61% of the VAP population was registered. By 2010, this had increased to 70%. The increase was likely even higher among the CVAP, since the number of non-citizens has been increasing. So as a share of the eligible population, turnout was up around 16%.

    The added voters would tend to be the least likely to vote – voters who moved a few months before the presidential election might get caught in a registration drive, and someone would contact them 3 times to vote, and even provide a stamp for their ballot. In the two years since, they’ve moved three times, lost 2 jobs, and been divorced. They are still registered, but won’t receive a ballot, and surely won’t vote.

    The increase is likely a result of the switch to by-mail elections, and an aging population. A countervailing effect would be the switch to an August primary.

    Some interesting turnout data from recent primaries. In 2008, turnout among those 65+ was 72%, among those 18-24, 18% and those 25-34, 19%. Seniors were four times as likely to vote in the primary as extended-adolescence adult children. In 2010, the median age for primary voters was 59.

    In 2014, turnout was under 30% in the urban counties of Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Clark. The Seattle media is not going to pay any attention to specific legislative races or even congressional races, and Clark is in the Portland media market, which is not going to cover Washington politics. It was particularly low in Pierce County which has a large military presence, and any military registrants from 2012 are probably in Georgia or some other posting. Turnout was over 50% in some rural counties.

    You simply can’t attribute and difference to the type of primary, or the soi-disant open primary.

  3. Thank you for that data.

    I don’t claim that top-two systems lower turnout. I just bring it up because top-two proponents typically claim that switching to top-two will increase primary turnout, and yet it doesn’t.

  4. The official arguments for Proposition 14 said:

    “Encourages increased participation in elections for congressional, legislative, and statewide offices by changing the procedure by which candidates are selected in primary elections.”

    It doesn’t say that it would increase turnout. It said that it would encourage increased participation. Since there has been a long time decline in election turnout, it would be difficult to show whether there was an effect or not.

    A stronger short-term driver of turnout would appear to be particular contests, such as the 2010 campaigns of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, or Ron Sims gubernatorial effort.

  5. When top-two was on the ballot in Washington state in 2004, the argument in favor, printed in the Voters Guide that was mailed to all voters, said, “In the primaries in 2000, the turnout in Washington was more than twice as high (that phrase was in italics) as in states with party primaries – because voters in this state could support any candidate on the primary ballot.” That was a claim that blanket primaries (which existed in Washington in 2000) and top-two primaries cause higher turnout.

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