Voter disinterest is this election’s biggest problem

Lack of competition, unfamiliarity with candidates are concerns


WITH THE MASSACHUSETTS general election just weeks away, some political analysts are worried that many voters aren’t that familiar with the candidates running for office.

At a forum on voter engagement hosted by the Boston Foundation, several analysts said the lack of competition in many races has led to disinterest in the election.

Peter Ciurczak, a research analyst with Boston Indicators, a research arm of the Boston Foundation, said polling just prior to the primary indicated many of the eventual winners were not known to voters.

According to a late August Priorities for Progress poll, 49 percent of Democratic primary voters didn’t know who attorney general candidate Andrea Campbell was. Another 76 percent never heard of Democratic state auditor nominee Sen. Diana DiZoglio.

The panelists at the forum said they were concerned the same level of voter disengagement will spill over to the general election.

Wilnelia Rivera, president and founder of Rivera Consulting, Inc, said voters feel less inclined to take an interest or vote when there’s an expectation that Democrats will win up and down the ballot.

The Democratic Party in Massachusetts currently controls all nine US House seats, both US Senate seats, and supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature. Ciurczak said roughly 90 percent of the legislative primaries in Massachusetts went uncontested.

Beth Huang, executive director of Massachusetts Voter Table, said she’s concerned down-ballot candidates lack the relationships and name recognition to garner interest from voters, particularly millennials, who are set to overcome baby boomers as the largest pool of voters.

“It is not so common for candidates to speak directly to young people’s issues,” Huang said.

Priorities for Progress public policy analyst John Griffin said in a phone interview that the news media also need to do a better job of covering Democratic primaries in Massachusetts because, at least for now, the winners of the primary elections generally face little opposition in the finals.

“In November, we know what the outcome is going to be – Maura Healey is going to be the next governor,” Griffin said. “It would be a service to the people of Massachusetts if the press covered the election that way because it’s important for people to see where they actually have the opportunity to shape their government.”

MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela said polling shows voters typically don’t become more familiar with races that are less salient to them.

“You will still end up with candidates for high-profile offices that most voters don’t have any opinion about whatsoever,” Koczela said. “There are a lot of elections where a lack of familiarity with the candidate is a major defining trend of the race even very late in the game.”

Meanwhile, MIT political science professor Charles Stewart said voters would only pay attention to down-ballot races if there’s a Republican Party candidate deemed a real threat.

“What brings people to the polls is conflict and uncertainty about who’s going to win the election,” Stewart said in a phone interview. “When you get it into an equilibrium where there is no uncertainty about who’s going to win the election, then you stay at home.”