With just a month before the election, and dozens of hot races in the balance, everyone is starting to ponder: What will be voter turnout?

Common wisdom is that turnout will be low – the voters appear to be uninterested by what is happening in Sacramento, statewide contests are nowhere near the intensity of 2012 or 2010, there are not controversial ballot measures to pique interest and local elections over the past year have had historically low participation. While candidates and consultants are roaring to go – the electorate looks like they still have a little bit of a hangover from 2012.

While the enthusiasm this year is low, this isn’t new for Gubernatorial Primary elections.  Turnout has been low consistently in these races, with particular portions of the voting population dropping faster than others.

As the following chart shows, the turnout in both primaries and general elections during gubernatorial years has a very distinctive age trend.  Younger voters are extremely disengaged in these elections, with voters aged 18-30 at an average of 15% turnout for primaries, compared to over 60% for seniors.  This trend continues for General elections with this set of younger voters averaging less than 30% turnout, with seniors reaching into the mid 75% and reaching up to nearly 80% turnout.

Overall, Primary election turnout is seen to be 10-20% lower for primaries in a consistent manner across age groups.  This is reflected in the range of options presented by the 14Primary and 14General likely voter universes:

Primary Universes

Preliminary General Universes


















The relationship between turnout and partisanship can also provide valuable insights.  California primary elections, even in 2012 after the introduction of the open primary, have had turnout mainly from the most partisan voters.  In the 2012 Primary, less than 10% of voters had no Democratic or Republican partisan voting experience displayed on the PDI voter file.

This is reflected in the likely voter universes, with DemPlus and RepPlus voters making the bulk of Primary Election voters and non-partisan voters being a very small portion of the likely voters.  As the likely voter universes go from the very narrow 14P1 to the more expansive 14P7, the largest increases are among DemPlus and Nonpartisan voters.

This relationship between low turnout rates among nonpartisans can be attributable to both a lack of interest among non-Party affiliated voters and the fact that the bulk of these voters are under 29 years old, where the Independent registration is highest.

This partisan breakdown is much more dispersed than the ethnic breakdown of gubernatorial election voters.  In the 2012 Primary election, Latinos were only 12% of the electorate.  This has also been seen in local special elections and city contests throughout 2013 – a very consistent underperformance by Latinos.  Asians are the fastest growing ethnicity among the electorate, with the vast majority of those new registrants being foreign born, however they are not having a significant impact on statewide turnout yet, particularly within low-enthusiasm elections.

As the following chart shows, the vast majority of the electorate in each of the likely voter universes for the 2014 election are non-Latino and non-Asian.  African Americans are a very small portion of this population, but their turnout rates within primary elections are more reflective of their share of the registration as a whole.


A recent review of historic PDI data shows that in all legislative and congressional primary elections since 2002, there was only one instance where Latino turnout was greater than their share of the base registration, and no instances in over 750 elections where white voters did not over perform their base registration.