Is Anyone Voting in Tuesday’s Senate Primary?

With low turnout expected, candidates will compete to get their people to the polls.


Fun fact: There’s a primary election Tuesday for the open U.S. Senate seat. Oh, you hadn’t planned to vote? No, no, it’s fine. Neither has anyone, apparently. That, as it turns out, is probably good news for the guys who have been polling ahead in both parties. The Eagle Tribune‘s Douglas Moser asked around among various town clerks who reported that based on the numbers of absentee ballots requested, they’re not expecting much of a crowd at the precincts Tuesday:

Area clerks said they expect turnout to hover in the teens, based on past elections and the number of absentee ballots requested.

“We’ve had only 96 absentee ballots requested, which leads me to think the turnout will be very low, I’d say 10 to 15 percent. My guess is about 12 percent,” said Methuen City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway.

So where do the candidates stand? A Western New England University poll from last week put Rep. Ed Markey about 10 points ahead of Rep. Stephen Lynch for the Democratic primary. It also showed Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez with 33 percent of likely Republican primary voters, ahead of former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan at 27 percent and Dan Winslow trailing at 9 percent. There are some big caveats: Gomez’s lead is well within the +/- 9 percentage point margin of error. On the Democratic side, 21 percent of voters were undecided. It’s an even higher 30 percent on the Republican side. Thirty-six percent of Democrats said they might change their mind, and 59 percent of Republicans said the same.

But lest you think these races are total toss-ups, remember the “undecided voter” as characterized by a hilarious SNL spoof during the presidential election. The sketch was a fake political ad in which undecided voters told the camera:

It seems that more than 96 percent of voters have already made up their minds about this election. Well, I guess some of us are just a little harder to please. We’re not impressed by political spin and 30-second sound bites. Before you get our vote, you’re going to have to answer some questions. Questions like, ‘When is the election?’ ‘How soon do we have to decide?’ ‘What are the names of the two people running?”’

The point: Political scientists warn that undecided voters are usually unenthusiastic, low-information voters. They’re undecided because they haven’t been paying close attention. They might not show up on election day, and when they do, they rarely break as a group for one candidate or another. More often they spread themselves out.

As for those who say they could change their mind, one imagines they’d have to be given a strong reason. People who say the Boston Marathon is causing the low turnout are kidding themselves if they think the commonwealth was salivating over this race before the bombs went off. But the marathon news did suck what little air there was out of the Senate race, and there hasn’t been much chance for losing candidates to break through. Stephen Lynch had some success using the marathon attacks to pick at Markey’s national security record. That at least got people to focus more on the race, though no one has yet to prove that it got anyone to conclude unequivocally that Lynch’s record is better on national security.

With less than 24 hours before voting, that means candidates don’t have much chance to get through to undecided or wavering voters. This is going to be a game of getting as many of the voters they do have to the polling place as they can.