Federal Primary Election Runoffs and Voter Turnout Decline

// Published October 2, 2006

This report was updated in 2011. Read the new version here.

This study looks at the decline in voter turnout between primary and primary runoff elections for federal races from 1994-2006. It is based on the two-party results of those elections. In the vast majority of cases, it is possible to look for trends in the relationship between turnout and a candidate's race, gender, affiliation and/or office sought (House or Senate). The study also looks at comebacks, or elections in which the runoff winner had trailed in the first round primary, and incumbency.

Summary of Findings:

Overall: Of 104 total runoffs for the period under study, 101 saw turnout declines. Mean turnout decline for the period was 34.7%. Median decline was 32.9%.

Over time: Turnout dropoff worsened since 2004.
2006: 43.31%
2004: 38.96%
2002: 30.20%
2000: 47.96%
1998: 31.62%
1996: 35.56%
1994: 28.10%

House vs. Senate: 39.59% dropoff in Senate races. 33.91% dropoff in House races.

By party: 34.54% dropoff in Democrat primaries. 35.36% dropoff in Republican primaries.

Gender: 26.08% dropoff in races with female candidates.

Race: 34.95% dropoff in races with candidates of color. Note the sample is incomplete; several races are omitted.

Comebacks: 29.17% of candidates trailed in the first round but won the runoff (28 candidates).