For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Paying Attention to Primary Elections

Posted on May 17, 2018
Signe Wilkinson Cartoon

Cartoon by Signe Wilkinson

By Lynn Yeakel

It’s primary election season, a time when all eligible voters in the U.S. have the opportunity to reflect on which policies and ideals are most important to them and educate themselves on the candidates who will best represent their interests.

Unfortunately, not every voter seizes this opportunity.

In fact, in the 2016 primaries, only 28.5% of eligible voters cast their votes—roughly half the number who later showed up on Election Day in November. And when it’s not a presidential election year, turnout for the primaries is even lower.

What puzzles me is the element of choice in the general election that voters forfeit when they don’t participate in the primaries. After all, although general election voters decide the winners, primary voters are the ones who set up the match, and that’s a responsibility that should be taken seriously.

Putting aside my frustrations with historically low voter turnout in primaries, these important trends are on my mind in this election year:

  • Young people are becoming more civically engaged. A recent poll found that 60 percent of Americans between ages 18-34 planned to vote in the primary elections; by contrast, 47 percent said they voted in past primary elections, and just 25% said they voted in the 2014 midterm elections. It’s encouraging to see the next generation’s renewed focus on shaping the future. Now let’s hope it materializes.

But here's a caution about labeling this “The Year of the Woman.” As Debbie Walsh and Kelly Dittmar at Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics (a Vision 2020 ally) described, the notable increase in women’s candidacies this year may not translate into huge gains in women’s representation after Election Day. In their words, “if electoral results don’t live up to predictions that a tidal wave of women will enter public office, the narrative could too easily become about the failure of women candidates.” This is an important reminder that reaching shared leadership among women and men takes time, and this year’s increase in women running for office is one major step on that path.

There’s no question that we are moving in the right direction to complete the unfinished business of women’s equality. When every voice comes to the table, we can accelerate the pace of positive change. So please, get out and vote!