Heading into yesterday’s local elections across Alaska, the general feeling among most of the 49th state’s politicos was that we should expect a pretty low turnout in the November elections. The idea is that the massive unpopularity of both major presidential candidates, the negativity of their campaigns, and depressing state budget and economic news would lead a lot of people to just not participate in state elections.
So what do yesterday’s elections tell us about that logic?
In Juneau, the voter turnout was 25.9%. That compares with 23.6% in 2015, 29.2% in 2014, and 19.1% in 2013. The 2016 turnout then was on the higher end of recent turnout for Juneau.
In the Fairbanks North Star Borough elections, the turnout was 15.7%, down substantially from 2015’s 25.3% turnout. However, 2015 was a mayoral election. In 2014 turnout was 16.9 and in 2013 it was just 14.4%, so this year’s turnout is right in the middle of average for recent non-mayoral election years.
Out in the Mat-Su Borough, the proposed commercial marijuana ban clearly got people out to vote. Turnout was 23.6% compared with 16.9%, 13.62%, and 18.8% from each of the last three years.
What can we derive from all these results? At a local level voters are clearly no more disengaged from the political process this year than in previous years. In fact, the Mat-Su results show voters will turnout when they care about an issue.
What does that mean for November? We think it means voter turnout won’t be as depressed as many strategists think. Our rationale is that there is still reason to believe many low propensity voters will still be unmotivated by their Presidential options, but the local turnout numbers show that dissatisfaction will not be compounded by a local or statewide political malaise.
At this point, we’d expect the lowest November turnout in recent memory, but it won’t be shockingly low. To put that in real numbers, the last four Presidential elections in Alaska have had turnouts between 59.6% and 66.6%. We’d expect this year’s turnout to be in the low 50s. That is still 2-3 times the average local election turnout.