New Jersey’s 2017 gubernatorial election saw record-low voter turnout as only 2 million out of New Jersey’s 6 million registered voters came out to the polls. The voter turnout, clocking in at 35.1 percent, is nearly five points lower than the state’s previous record-low of 40 percent in 2013.
This unprecedented voter apathy is disappointing and odd, considering this year’s election is considered by political analysts to be a realigning, or critical, election – the results of which will likely determine a dramatic change in the political system.
The 2016 presidential election was also considered a realigning election and may also be the underlying cause for this year’s low voter turnout and low voter awareness in New Jersey.
“There’s all this noise going on in Washington D.C. distracting everything going on in the state,” said Karlito Almeda, who graduated Ramapo in 2017 and now works as a community organizer for the Democratic Party.
“There’s this media black hole sucking everyone’s attention away from what is going on locally and it creates this depression or apathy in people because the news is a constant barrage of negativity, and people just begin to tune everything out,” Almeda continued.
The election of President Trump last November and the oft-criticized presidential bid of sitting duck Governor Chris Christie have undoubtedly influenced the results of this year’s gubernatorial election. Losing candidate Kim Guadagno frequently criticized President Trump as well as Gov. Christie during her campaign, a fact that caused the Republican candidate to lose support from the Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association and many of Gov. Christie’s private fundraisers.
Still, Guadagno’s criticism of President Trump and Gov. Christie could not save her from affiliation with them in the minds of voters, and across the state, Democrats swept the local and statewide elections. Guadagno certainly was not helped by Gov. Christie’s abysmal reputation, as his approval rating sits below 15 percent and he was involved in an altercation with a voter at the polls on Tuesday.
Former President Barack Obama endorsed governor-elect Phil Murphy and visited a campaign rally in Newark on Oct. 19 to show his support for the then-candidate. This was the first public endorsement of a candidate Obama has made since the 2016 presidential election. The endorsement definitely had positive effects for the Goldman Sachs executive: Murphy won the election with a whopping 55.1 percentage of votes, nearly seven points more than Guadagno.
Still, one can’t help but wonder if the record low voter turnout was what caused Murphy’s victory over Guadagno. According to a Rutgers poll, four out of ten voters in New Jersey did not know anything about either candidate. Ramapo SGA Senator Ryan Greff chalked the lack of voter awareness up to a lack of substantial information in this year’s campaign ads.
“Phil Murphy never gave us any positive information about what he planned to do… I didn’t get too much from his advertisements aside from ‘I’ve got your back,’” said Greff.
“Phil Murphy’s ads mostly attacked Guadagno and Chris Christie and were not very positive about himself. The same applied to Guadagno’s ads; I felt they did not talk positively about her and just attacked Phil Murphy’s plan to raise taxes,” Greff continued.
Low voter awareness poses a serious problem to the future of democracy in our nation. When the majority of registered voters choose not to vote, we carry the risk of electing officials who misrepresent the majority. As of December 2016, according to the New Jersey Division of Elections, there are only 860,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state of New Jersey. The gap between Murphy’s and Guadagno’s poll results is only 279,614 voters. The importance of voter awareness and participation in local, state and national elections has never been more crucial than it is now.