Actually, Voter Turnout in Philly Stank

A hated governor, perfect weather … and the lowest turnout in 16 years.

It was a balmy day, the polls seemed reasonably busy, and anecdote after anecdote poured in suggesting voter turnout in Philly yesterday was reasonably strong.

Well, not so much. Only about 36 percent of registered Philadelphia voters cast a ballot in yesterday’s gubernatorial race, the lowest turnout in a gubernatorial election since Governor Ridge’s re-election romp in 1998. Indeed, it was second lowest turnout for a governor’s race in modern city history.

This modest showing is in keeping with a general downward trend in voter participation in state and local races in Philadelphia. Take a look at the chart below. With the clear exception of presidential contests, Philadelphians are simply not turning out for general elections like they used to. The same is largely true in primary elections (which we’ll return to later).

Yesterday could have been worse. Indeed, a lot of people expected a much poorer showing. The city’s voter registration supervisor, Timothy Dowling, predicted turnout of just 17-23 percent.

Granted, the election was expected to be a blowout, which tends to depress turnout all around. But it’s still kind of pathetic that 36 percent turnout is now considered decent, particularly in light of the city electorate’s loathing for Gov. Corbett and the incredibly high stakes of the election for the city’s embattled school district. One wonders what turnout would have looked like in a lower stakes election, with a less divisive incumbent.

Take a look at the chart below, compiled using data from the City Commissioner’s office.

For a still more comprehensive look at turnout and city election results, peruse this incredibly helpful document put together by the City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s office last year.

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