Voter turnout in key presidential primary states remains disappointingly low--less than 30 percent of the voting age population--despite the celebrity-level coverage by the television networks and the national press. Though both major parties had contested nominations in 1992, voter turnout in the primaries was among the lowest since the onset of the Progressive era early in the twentieth century. Approximately 25 percent of the Democratic electorate turned out to vote in the 1992 Democratic primaries--a five percent drop from 1988. 1
Long-term voter turnout in the presidential primaries from 1912 through 1992 is charted in Table 14.1. In the 1968 pre-party reform primaries, a total of slightly over 12 million votes were cast in seventeen states. With the jump in the number of states holding presidential primaries from seventeen to twenty-nine between 1968 and 1976, in the midst of the party reform era, the combined primary vote for the two parties increased to more than 26 million votes--more than double the figure for the 1968 turnout. By 1988, presidential primary voter turnout exceeded 35.1 million (see Table 14.1). Also, the broad increase in the total number of primary votes cast can of course be partially explained by the absolute growth of the U.S. population over the past several decades--which almost doubled between 1930 and 1980 (123.2 million to 226.5 million).
As V.O. Key, Jr., discovered many years ago, rank-and-file participation in a primary is generally greater in the majority party, especially in the later