Voter Turnout Wasn’t That Bad in the 2016 Primary
Thirty-nine percent of registered voters in Philadelphia went to the polls on Tuesday, according to a preliminary report by City Commissioner Al Schmidt.
This year is the first contested Democratic presidential primary since Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were battling for the nomination in 2008. Philadelphia’s 2016 turnout was better than it was in the 2012 presidential primary, when Obama’s renomination was a foregone conclusion and only 20 percent of voters showed up to the polls. But the 2008 Clinton-Obama fight drew out a greater share of Philly voters — 46 percent — than the Clinton-Sanders fight did Tuesday. (Why the focus on Democrats? Because registered Dems outnumber Republican seven-to-one in Philly.)
Schmidt’s report is based on data from 98 percent of the city’s total vote being counted, and it doesn’t include provisional ballots.
The 2000 election had the worst turnout of any presidential primary in recent years, with less than one-fifth of city voters casting a ballot. Back then, Vice President Al Gore had already beat back a Democratic primary challenge from former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley by the time Pennsylvania’s election came around.
Relatively high voter turnout — and 39 percent is relatively high, by Philly standards — is of course a good thing, indicating that voters are taking at least a passing interest in government.
It’s less of a good thing if you’re part of the Democratic machine, though. The Democratic Party operation in Philly tends to have an easier time getting its preferred candidates elected during off-years, when the elections are less exciting and ward leaders can still bring out the base. It’s tougher for the local party when more autonomous voters show up to weigh in on presidential elections. That might explain why some of the city’s most powerful Democrats, including Congressman Bob Brady and electricians union leader John Dougherty, failed to get their preferred candidates elected on Tuesday.
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