The lack of competitive state legislative races and voter fatigue helped contribute to one of the lowest voter turnouts in the history of gubernatorial elections, according to state voting records.
The low turnout appeared to hurt Republicans more than it did Democrats. Both around the state and the country, Democrats rode a wave of anti-President Donald J. Trump sentiment to win key races.
Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties all saw their voter turnout drop from the last gubernatorial election in 2013.
Statewide, the 2013 governor’s race between Republican incumbent Chris Christie and Barbara Buono drew only 39.6 percent of registered voters to the polls around the state.
But this year’s election only saw 35.1 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, according to preliminary numbers.
The numbers do not account for ballots sent in by mail.
Brigid Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University and president of the New Jersey Political Science Association, said rainy weather Tuesday and the lack of competitive races may have kept some voters home.
Only 34.7 percent of the registered voters in Atlantic County came out for this year’s election, down about 2 percent from 2013.
In Cape May County, 44.3 percent of registered voters came out Tuesday, down about 2 percent from 2013. In Cumberland County, 32.6 percent of registered voters cast a vote, down 5 percent from 2013. In Ocean County, 40 percent of registered voters went to the polls, down from 45 percent in 2013.
“The swirling negative vortex, at both the state and national level, has left many throwing up their hands saying, ‘I want none of this,’” Harrison said.
John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said that while Phil Murphy winning the gubernatorial race may have been a forgone conclusion before the election, the extent of the Democratic victories throughout the state was a surprise.
In Atlantic County, Democrats won both state Assembly seats in the 2nd Legislative District, the sheriff’s race, several municipal elections and picked up two seats on the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
“It seemed anecdotal before the election that Democrats were energized, but they really turned out to vote,” he said, adding that Christie’s unpopularity played a big role in the races. “Eight years can seem like a long time, and Christie was more impossible to ignore than other governors.”
Weingart added Democrats may have been able to win more seats if the New Jersey Education Association had not spent millions of dollars in attack ads against Senate President Steve Sweeney, who still won re-election.
“The NJEA comes out of this greatly diminished,” he said. “I still haven’t heard an argument as to why spending all that money (on one race) was a good idea.”
Keith Davis, chairman of the Atlantic County Republicans, also said Christie’s unpopularity affected races in the area. The issues with the payments in lieu of property taxes that Atlantic City casinos pay, a Christie-backed idea, and Christie’s support for North Jersey casinos angered local Republicans, he said.
“It was constantly about Chris Christie,” he said, referencing mailers and television ads that consistently tried to tie local Republicans with the outgoing governor. “We used Jon Corzine against Democrats (in 2009), and it came back around this time.”
Mike Suleiman, chairman of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee, said he believes Tuesday’s heavy rain played a role in the low turnout, but he was still ecstatic with his party’s performance.
“Many of the candidates who won yesterday have never been involved in politics before,” he said, referencing upsets Democrats pulled off on the freeholder board and in Galloway Township. “We really localized these elections and focused on local issues. Our candidates appealed to the broader electorate.”