Voters went to the polls in record numbers during the 2020 election cycle, but this year the turnout is far more lackluster, with just 8% of ballots returned and five days to go until the primary election on June 7.
Early voting figures from Political Data Intelligence, a Norwalk-based firm that tracks elections and provides information to campaigns, consultants and pollsters, shows that 21,916 Long Beach ballots have been returned as of Thursday. There are 273,546 registered voters in Long Beach, according to the most recent city data.
The 2020 March primary election saw 40.1% of registered voters return their ballots and a historic 74.8% of voters casting ballots in the November general election, which included the contentious presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. However, the last non-presidential primary election in 2018 had just 15.8% voter turnout.
The small early showing has experts predicting turnout to be somewhere between 20% and 30% once all ballots are collected Tuesday night, something that could skew the electorate toward older, more affluent White residents who are reliable voters in every election.
“The people who are going to be deciding these elections are not going to look like most of the people walking around on the streets,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of PDI. “The people who shop at Gelson’s are going to be electing people who represent the people who shop at Ralphs.”
Mitchell noted that voter turnout is low across the board. In last year’s recall election when Democrats urged voters to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office, there had been seven million votes cast in California. Today there are just two million, Mitchell said.
The firm’s data shows that nearly 69% of ballots returned in Long Beach are from people over the age of 50. White residents make up 66% of the ballots already cast.
Long Beach’s largest ethnic groups are Latinos (43%), Whites (28.1%), Asians (12.8%) and Blacks (12.6%), according to the most recent Census.
Latinos make up about 17% of the early ballots counted, according to PDI. Mitchell said that it’s likely the group’s political voice will be underrepresented this election.
Matt Lesenyie, an assistant professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach, said that the low voter turnout could be attributed to the lack of an “anchor” at the top of the ticket. There is no Donald Trump to defeat and it’s telling by how top officials are campaigning—or not, Lesenyie said.
“Newsom isn’t even campaigning this year and he campaigned for his life last year,” he said. “[Senator Alex] Padilla isn’t campaigning. If they’re the top of the ticket and they’re taking the election off, they must know something about how voters are going to behave this election.”
There is a contentious race for Los Angeles County Sheriff on the ballot, but that may not be resonating with Long Beach voters who have their own police department unlike many other cities in the county.
Lesenyie was not optimistic about a substantial increase in voter turnout.
“At this point, no, you’re not getting to 30%,” he said, projecting voter turnout might be as low as 22% once ballots are counted.
Low voter turnout has historically favored more conservative candidates nationally, but in a city like Long Beach where Democrats are scattered across the ballot, it could favor moderate Democrats like Councilwoman Suzie Price, or candidates running on a reform platform targeting incumbent Democrats.
A poll released by Cal State Long Beach last week showed that the mayor’s race was in a virtual tie between Price and Councilman Rex Richardson, with nearly half of voters undecided. Price polled higher than Richardson with voters over the age of 50 and was performing about six percentage points higher with White voters.
There was no statistically significant difference between the two with higher-income voters. Richardson had about a nine-percentage-point lead with Democratic voters, which make up about 60% of the ballots already returned.
However, Price showed about 23% support from Democratic voters and had a 23 percentage-point lead with Republican voters, which account for about 19% of ballots returned.
Richardson’s North Long Beach City Council district, where he’s served since 2014, has the second-lowest amount of ballots returned (1,311) with just 5% of registered voters casting a ballot. Price’s district, which she’s also represented since 2014, has 4,040 ballots returned (12%).
The June 7 primary will end when polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday night. Voters can cast their ballots in person at early vote centers located throughout the city or return their mail ballots at one of 17 drop boxes spread throughout Long Beach.