Massachusetts Senate Special Election Turnout No Reflection on Obama

Voters too busy to pick Kennedy's replacement, but a referendum on the president it was not.

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By Julia Piscitelli, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is now the Democratic nominee to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Many might wonder how this happened. Even registered voters in Massachusetts seemed unaware there was a campaign going on, never mind an actual Election Day. About 600,000 of the commonwealth's 4.1 million eligible voters went to the polls. In Boston, only about 17 percent voted.

Turnout during non-presidential election years is always lower than it is with presidential candidates at the top of the ticket. Now drop that number further for the sandwich year in between when Congress is not up for re-election. And drop it further when you have a special election (read: Election Day is not the first Tuesday of November). And slice it again for the primary election in December for that special election in a non-presidential, non-congressional year.

If the Republicans were trying to spin November's elections as a referendum on President Obama, which it simply was not, re-read the above before trying to use this election in Massachusetts as a harbinger of anything to come for Obama as far as Democrats staying home next year on Election Day. It isn't.

Registered voters as well as those not registered to vote gave many excuses for not voting. Some said they were busy—walking the dog, for example—or didn't know much about the candidates (curious, since some are already elected officials, but OK), or didn't have a television, and a variety of other unremarkable excuses.

So to a large extent it comes down to peer pressure—from the media, neighbors, colleagues, family, everyone talking about who they might vote for and why in a presidential, or even a congressional election year. Back on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, maybe people looked on your lapel for your "I voted" sticker, but yesterday in Massachusetts if you had one on, people might have looked at you as though you just hadn't done the wash since November 2008.

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