Primary Turnout a Good Omen for NJ Dems; Republicans Underwhelm

Voting booths. John Moore/Getty Images

Many predicted a low turnout for the New Jersey gubernatorial primary, with the race receiving little national attention and polls showing voters with scant knowledge of the candidates.

But Democrats exceeded expectations on Tuesday. Republicans did not.

Nearly 500,000 Democrats cast ballots, according to unofficial election results. That’s a turnout rate of 24 percent, which is above the average for a Democratic gubernatorial primary compared with recent cycles going back to 2005. More than 240,000 Republicans cast ballots, for a turnout rate of 20 percent, below the average for the GOP in recent years.

The disparity showed Democrats are more energized, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“The fact that there was double the turnout among Democrats as there was Republicans when both races are contested — and in many ways people felt the Republican race was more competitive — is a real signal about the different levels of enthusiasm among the two party bases,” he said.

You’d have to go back to 1981, when there was a race to replace Gov. Brendan Byrne, to find more Democrats voting in a New Jersey gubernatorial primary than on Tuesday, Murray said.

Phil Murphy, an ex-Goldman Sachs executive and former U.S. ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama, won the Democratic nomination for governor on Tuesday with 238,524 votes, or 48 percent. In 2005, former Gov. Jon Corzine, another Goldman alumnus who spent millions of his own money to win the nomination, got 207,670 votes.

Republican turnout has exceeded 300,000 votes and a rate of 30 percent in election cycles going back to 2005, with the exception of 2013, when turnout was 21 percent during a year when incumbent Gov. Chris Christie was on the ballot for his re-election bid.

The Republican race between Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli was expected to be a low-turnout event, but a more competitive one than the Democratic primary this year. Even so, the 240,757 Republican vote total was bleak, according to Murray.

“When there’s a competitive Republican primary the expectation is a minimum of 340,000 voters,” Murray said. “I don’t know the last time we got below that in a competitive primary. So the fact they couldn’t get to 250,000 this time around says a lot.”

Guadagno won with 112,743 votes, or 47 percent.

“Phil Murphy won just about as many votes as the entire Republican primary field: 238,431 vs. 240,842,” Brendan Gill Murphy’s campaign manager, wrote in a post primary analysis on Friday.

Here’s a look at voter turnout in recent gubernatorial primaries:

2005
Democrats registered: 1,130,543
Democrats voting: 235,778
Democratic turnout: 21%

Republicans registered: 854,023
Republicans voting: 302,501
Republican turnout: 35%

Total eligible: 4,497,345
Total voting: 538,279
Overall turnout: 12%

2009
Democrats registered: 1,758,907
Democrats voting: 200,120
Democratic turnout: 11%

Republicans registered: 1,031,878
Republicans voting: 334,215
Republican turnout: 32%

Total eligible: 5,199,574
Total voting: 534,335
Overall turnout: 10%

2013
Democrats registered: 1,779,250
Democrats voting: 197,171
Democratic turnout: 11%

Republicans registered: 1,070,906
Republicans voting: 223,761
Republican turnout: 21%

Total eligible: 5,459,925
Total voting: 420,932
Overall turnout: 7.7%

2017
Democrats registered: 2,052,028
Democrats voting: 494,478
Democratic turnout: 24%

Republicans registered: 1,211,831
Republicans voting: 240,757
Republican turnout: 19.8%

Total eligible: 5,662,199
Total voting: 735,235
Overall turnout: 13%

Primary Turnout a Good Omen for NJ Dems; Republicans Underwhelm