With the latest primary election in the country come and gone, it is a good time to look back and reflect on who voted in this election for governor. How many from each political party voted? What percentage of the electorate voted? These questions and more can give us important answers about the political participation in Virginia. For a quick check on who was in the race, read my previous post.
Firstly, the nominees themselves, as reported in the New York Times. Ralph Northam won the Democratic primary, and Ed Gillespie won the Republican one. In the GOP primary, Corey Stewart came in second and Frank Wagner was last. Both of these primaries are victories for the establishment of their respective parties.
Based on the data from the Times, we can see that 543,046 voters participated in the Democratic primary. 303,541 (55.9%) voted for Northam and 239,505 (44.1%) selected Perriello. As of 2016, the US Census estimates that Virginia has a population of 8,411,808. This means that 6.46% of the Virginia population voted Democrat. Breaking this down further, it shows that 3.61% of the population voted for Northam, and 2.85% voted for Perriello.
Switching to the conservative primary, the Times tells us that 160,100 voters (or 43.7% of the conservative turnout) supported Ed Gillespie, 155,780 (42.5%) opted for Stewart and 50,394 (13.8%) supported Wagner. This is makes for a total of 366,274 conservative voters, and shows a large enthusiasm gap in the Democrats’ favor. Virginia has slowly shifted to support the Democrats over the years, as shown by Dave Leip’s US Election Atlas. This Democratic turnout will likely continue that trend. These conservative voters are 4.35% of Virginia’s total population. Dissecting this further shows that Gillespie received support from 1.9% of the population, Stewart received 1.85% and .599% of the population supported Wagner.
You might wonder what the point is of breaking down all these details. The point is that this is such a small number of people to be making decisions for over eight million citizens. The total number of people who voted in these primaries was only 909,320 (excluding those who voted for Cliff Hyra, because I couldn’t find that data), or 10.8% of the entire state’s population! Granted, not everyone in the state is part of the electorate. Some too young or are felons, but the point still stands. This leads me to the question of why more people don’t vote.
I made a small informal poll on a Google Form asking people who did not vote in this primary to say why. This poll generated a spreadsheet of responses. A repeat answer to this question is that the respondents were fine with any of the candidates. This apathy is one answer as to why people do not vote. Another is ambivalence, which is why British comedian Russell Brand says that he does not vote (although he has recently changed this, starting with the Green Party, but more recently supporting Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party). Brand claimed that voting is pointless, and you can watch him talk about this with Seth Myers in 2014:
Brand’s statement about every election being won by those with more money may be true in this Democratic primary, because Northam outspent Perriello on TV advertisements.
Regardless of what Brand says, I think it is important to vote and make your voice heard in government. As I pointed out, he was eventually won over. These are just a few things to think about next time for the general election.