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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Turnout numbers show still-silent majority in primaries

While some states have seen record turnouts for

While some states have seen record turnouts for races that included front-runners Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, most primaries have been decided by a minority of eligible voters. Photo Credit: Newsday File

By most accounts, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz confronts a make-or-break GOP primary on Tuesday in Indiana. By most accounts, he will fail, and surprise strongman Donald Trump will face Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.

Most of these accounts, while probably correct, obscure one predictable and enduring fact: Primaries are mostly decided by a minority of eligible voters.

With the season almost over, New Hampshire stood out, with 52 percent of the voting-eligible population taking part in the major-party primaries, according to the University of Florida's U.S. Election Project. Wisconsin was second with 49 percent.

For more typical examples, though, consider total turnout for last week's "Acela states" primaries: Connecticut, 21 percent; Delaware 23 percent; Maryland 30 percent, Pennsylvania 33 percent and Rhode Island, 24 percent. This is true even with turnout up sharply compared to 2012 and even higher than in 2008.

Reasons for chronically low turnout are easy to surmise.

The field has dwindled, especially on the Republican side. Even when boiled down to two or three contenders, the major-party races look decreasingly competitive. Some people don’t like their choices; others may be quite satisfied that their candidate will win without them. Either way, they may say “Why bother?” Still others just may not care, or more likely, have any engagement, or believe the process is about them.

In New York, 34 percent of enrolled Republicans and 34 percent of enrolled Democrats showed up at the polls April 19.

Trump got 60 percent of the GOP vote here. That means 21 percent of all registered state Republicans cast ballots for him.

Since only one in four state voters belong to the GOP, his victory required support from only 5 percent of all registered voters in New York.

Through the same lens: Hillary Clinton won New York on the strength of 10 percent of its registered voters, or 20 percent of its registered Democrats.

For further perspective: That 34 percent of major-party registrants who turned out represents only 20 percent of the overall voting-eligible population (since not everyone who could vote is even registered), according to the Election Project.

All this more or less reflects trends in the other states.

In a phrase made famous by President Richard Nixon as he sought to keep anti-war protesters at bay, Trump lays claim to support from a “silent majority.”

But if raising your voice means voting, the majority so far remains muted.

It may be left to the general election to show whether Trump’s fan club, or Clinton’s, reflects only a vocal minority.

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