Voter turnout figures released this week reveal that participation in this month's statewide Republican primaries was the party's lowest in nearly three decades.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said that 21 percent of registered Republicans voted on Aug. 12, when Greenwich businessman Tom Foley and former Groton Mayor Heather Somers were elected to face Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman in November's general election.
Of nearly 400,000 registered Republicans in Connecticut, fewer than 83,000 voted in the primary. The 21 percent turnout figure was a 9 percentage point drop from 2010, when 30 percent of registered GOP voters cast ballots. Foley won that year's primary.
Last week, as he stood outside a desolate polling place where his campaign staff outnumbered voters, he said he expected lower turnout in 2014. In 2010, Foley said, a U.S. Senate election and statewide Democratic races raised the profile of primary day.
"The turnout was actually slightly higher than we had predicted for this year," Merrill said in a statement. "Compared to general elections, primaries consistently have a lower turnout so exceeding 20 percent was actually a little higher than we originally thought."
Merrill released figures showing that voter turnout in this year's primary was the lowest in a Republican statewide race since 1986, when the figure also was 21 percent. Statewide primaries in 1992 and 1994 drew participation rates of 22 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
The town with the highest participation rate was Chaplin, where more than 54 percent of the 428 registered Republicans cast ballots. Turnout was lowest in New Fairfield, with fewer than 300 of the nearly 3,000 eligible voters showing up at the polls. Four of the five towns with the lowest turnout were in Fairfield County, which is home to both Foley and his primary opponent, Senate Majority Leader John McKinney.
Low voter turnout throughout Connecticut mirrors a national trend of lagging statewide primary participation, according to a recent study that reported low turnout rates in 2014 primary elections.
The report, released last month by the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate, found historically low turnout in 15 of the 25 states that held statewide primaries for both major parties this year. Of those 25 states, only three recorded higher voter turnout this year than in 2010.
"The numbers in this report reflect how deeply citizens are turning away from political engagement and from positive feeling about one or another major political party," Curtis Gans, the center's director, wrote in the report, noting "a steep decline in participation that has been occurring over decades."