Election 2017: Expected low turnout favors conservatives

With no national candidates or compelling state initiatives, voter turnout in Washington state is expected to push into historic lows for the November 2017 election.

Election officials in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties expect fewer than 45 percent of registered voters will return their ballots by next Tuesday. The state elections office, fearful that forecasting a low-voter turnout will repress numbers even more, declined to predict statewide outcomes.

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But the lack of a compelling national candidate or state issue is only partly to blame, said Benjamin Gonzalez, a Highline College professor of political science. Current political toxicity likely also is playing a role.

“When the rhetoric gets really charged, it can help depress turnout,” he said. “We do know that in Washington and King County, we’ve seen some falling turnout rates. In the 2015 elections, we hit a pretty low point of 38 percent voter participation.”

And generally, low-turnout elections tend to favor conservatives, he said.

“The individuals who tend to turn out in off-year or midterm elections tend to be older, fewer minorities, wealthier individuals tend to turn out at a higher rate,” he said. “That demographic group tends to favor conservative or Republican candidates.”

Gonzalez said some races might help pull in 50 percent of registered voters within specific communities. The Seattle mayor’s race between Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon has garnered both money and interest within city limits. Same for the Everett mayor’s contest between Judy Tuohy and Cassie Franklin and Tacoma’s fight between Jim Merritt and Victoria Woodards.

And in the Eastside’s 45th state senate district (Kirkland, Woodinville, Duvall) where state political party power could be decided, turnout could be better-than-average for an off year, he said.

“But these mid-term elections, they are tough,” he said. And the Democrats, he said, have it even tougher. For the 45th (District) for example, the low-turnout bias should help Jinyoung Lee Englund, over Democrat Manka Dhingra.

“That’s going to be an issue for the Democrats for the type of coalition they tend to rely on,” he said. “Younger voters, minorities. Those two groups are harder to turn out.”