With so much energy focusing on the presidential nominating contests in both parties, when will Vermonters turn attention to the gubernatorial election? In the VPR Poll from February 2016, a vast majority of Vermonters said that they were following news about the Vermont Governor’s election either not too closely (40 percent) or not at all (26 percent). Clearly, in advance of 2016 Town Meeting Day, Vermonters had not yet begun to consider who they would like to see replace Peter Shumlin as governor of the Green Mountain State.
So when will Vermonters begin to focus on this important decision?
The state-wide primary elections will be August 9th, and if past behavior is indicative of future behavior—and it almost always is—turnout will be dismal. The 2014 Primary election turnout was only 9 percent. Let me state that another way for emphasis: less than 1 out of every 10 eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2014 state primary election.
In the open race of 2010, the last time there was a race without an incumbent from either party, the turnout for the state primary was 24 percent. In the Democratic primary, Peter Shumlin narrowly edged out Doug Racine, Deborah Markowitz, and Matt Dunne for the Democratic nomination. In a hotly contested primary race where four candidates received more than 20 percent of the Democratic vote, less than a quarter of all voters came out to cast a ballot. Additionally, this election was held later in August (August 27th) when Vermonters were coming out of the summer laze and more likely to tune into news and politics. In early August, many will still be focused on vacation and summer activities.
So high interest in the 2016 gubernatorial primary seems unlikely. The candidates will struggle to gain the attention of eligible voters. This will hurt most candidates without strong followings going in to the election.
Given his high name recognition and favorability, Phil Scott is obviously in a good place heading to the primary election, while Bruce Lisman has to gain public attention around his campaign.
On the Democratic side, it’s hard to know who is advantaged by the public’s low attention level, although is it likely that getting into the race far later than Matt Dunne and Sue Minter will not likely hurt Peter Galbraith in the primary. The race appears to be wide open.