Jonathan L. Wharton (opinion): Where were CT’s urban voters last week?

New Haven voters fill out their ballots on Election Day 2022.

New Haven voters fill out their ballots on Election Day 2022.

Chatwan Mongkol / Hearst Connecticut Media

So much has been said about last week’s elections, but more so on the national and state levels. Our United States Congress remains in distress as to which party will be in the majority. But it will likely be resolved this coming week, or next month at this rate.

Our state office elections were decided pretty quickly on last Tuesday since there were widening gaps among Democratic and Republican candidates, especially compared to 2018’s races. But what about Connecticut’s urban areas, which tend to be overlooked by many politicos and the media?

Connecticut’s cities are the largest population centers in our state and among the largest in New England. Bridgeport, for example, is the biggest city in the state, but fewer voters turned out in last week’s elections than in 2018. Even New Haven, the state’s largest concentration of Democratic voters in the state (which also has the highest number of Democratic delegates at their state party convention), had lower voter turnout than the last midterm election.

So what’s going on then in our cities?

Sifting through some of the early voting data from our Connecticut Secretary of the State’s website that tracks statistics from last week and elections past (including 2018’s election), there was a voter participation drop in many Connecticut cities. Of course, this is preliminary data since it’s only been a week before finalizing voting results.

As a reminder, 2018 was a congressional midterm and state election year , as well. But it was a contentious race since former Gov. Dannel Malloy didn’t seek another term. With an open seat in the governor’s mansion, there was much interest in the gubernatorial race and voter turnout proved to be significant . The Republican ticket had so many gubernatorial (and lieutenant governor) candidates that the party convention narrowly whittled it down to three nominees for governor and then-petitioning candidate Bob Stefanowski, whom ultimately won the primary election with 27 percent. Meanwhile, several Democratic candidates for governor also ran, and there was even a Democratic lieutenant governor’s race between Eva Bermudez Zimmerman and Susan Bysiewicz.

But the most intriguing aspect of the 2018 election was Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin running for governor and garnering some of their hometown support; they ultimately backed Ned Lamont for governor. Grassroots politics is critical in any race but especially for a midterm election, since fewer voters turnout in midterm races.

It’s widely known that midterm elections garner little voter attention because it’s not a presidential election. Voter turnout tends to be 60 to 70 percent for presidential elections and midterm races are far less, at 30 to 40 percent (and municipal races typically see half that rate in many cities).

Still, last week’s elections demonstrate political scientists’ conundrum about state and local politics: If you have a viable and contentious election even at the primary election and convention party stages, voters will turn out.

Many of my political science colleagues stress that party competition, even internally, can be impactful for voter turnout. I’m not fully on board with this notion since it requires significant financing and organization, but it can be a start towards voter engagement. And we witnessed the results of party competition yielding to more voter turnout in Bridgeport (19,000-plus last week versus 28,000 in 2018), New Haven (24,000-plus last week versus 32,000 in 2018) and New Britain (13,000 voters last week versus 15,000 voters in 2018).

Interestingly, Danbury held steady with their voter turnout in 2018 and last week (about 20,000 voters). Maybe there’s something in Hat City other cities can replicate for consistent voter turnout in the next midterm elections.

Jonathan L. Wharton is the School of Graduate and Professional Studies associate dean and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.