Democratic Gains and a One-Sided Drop in Urban Voters in Connecticut


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While Republican voter turnout in the five largest cities in Connecticut by population – Bridgeport, Stamford, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury – mirrored 2018 numbers, Democratic voter turnout dropped significantly, despite overall gains for the party.

By Wednesday afternoon, statewide voter turnout for 2022 was 58.59 percent, somewhat lower than in 2018 when it reached 65.23 percent. And Democratic turnout in Connecticut’s large cities accounted for the majority of that drop.

Republicans showed up for Bob Stefanowski in roughly equal numbers as in 2018 — the largest deviation being Stamford, with a decrease of only 1,770 registered Republican voters.

But the drop in Democratic voters was considerable – Gov. Ned Lamont lost about 10,000 voters in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford compared to 2018. Stamford and Waterbury stayed somewhat steady at a decrease of approximately 3,000 votes, but still fell further than any Republican shift.

According to current voter counts by the Office of the Secretary of the State, Lamont won the large majority of the votes in Hartford (83.91 percent), New Haven (76.74 percent), Bridgeport (72.33 percent) and Stamford (63.39 percent), but finished with a slim margin of 53.2 percent in Waterbury – the closest race of the five cities.

Professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, Paul Herrnson, told CT Examiner that those living in cities were more likely to vote for incumbents as they generally receive more services like water and sewage.

“People in urban areas probably value government more,” Herrnson explained.

Herrnson said incumbents like Lamont had the advantage of name recognition and performance. He said those in cities were more likely to vote for their Democratic incumbent, but the same went for rural areas represented by Republicans.

“If you performed well as an incumbent, it’s pretty hard to get turned down,” Hernnson said.

But Jonathan Wharton, a professor of political science at Southern Connecticut State University, said he believed the higher turnout in the 2018 midterm election was partially driven by having an open seat in the governor’s race, rather than an incumbent running for re-election. 

“The gubernatorial ticket back in 2018, it was a very contested election. And so people did show up,” said Wharton.

Wharton pointed out that in the gubernatorial primary elections of 2018, there were multiple candidates, Democratic and Republican, vying for the endorsement of their respective political parties, which increased interest in both the primary and the election. 

Wharton also pointed to the entrenched political machinery that exists in the large urban centers like New Haven and Bridgeport. Democratic Town Committees, he said, tend to prioritize a “one-party rule” that discourages competition and doesn’t engage or mobilize voters at a grassroots level. 

While this kind of system supports incumbent candidates, he said it can also discourage turnout by not offering any new faces. 

“That’s what you get when you have a dominant one-party monopoly — is that you’re not going to engage or get other candidates to show up,” said Wharton. “But then again, you’re not going to have a reason for these voters to turn up in a primary or in a general election, because there’s no competition. So why would urban voters in particular show up if they don’t see any real changes among candidates?”  

Steven Moore, a professor of political science at Wesleyan University, told CT Examiner that the Democratic party may need to reevaluate its outreach to non-white voters to encourage turnout in cities.

Moore said that 2020 election results could indicate an ongoing shift from divides along racial lines and toward divisions based on voters’ levels of education, both in the case of Black and Latino voters. He said the Republican Party had diversified their slate of candidates, calling for additional outreach from Democrats.

“If Democrats think that just providing a diverse set of candidates is enough to really win over the more diverse portion of the electorate, it’s not sufficient,” Moore said. “There needs to be much more dedicated outreach.”

Moore said that Democrats needed to clearly show voters that their candidates had improved the voters’ quality of life in tangible ways. 

According to the latest census data, in the three cities with the largest decrease in Democrat voter turnout – Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford – Black residents make up approximately 35 percent of each city’s population, and Hispanic/Latino residents account for about 39 percent. 

But the population in Waterbury, which experienced the least Democratic voter loss of the cities, was predominantly White at 59.6 percent.

Moore said that Black voters experience more structural barriers on election day. For instance, he said, they often live further from polling stations and are more likely to wait extended amounts of time in line.

“There’s a lot that has to be done to reach these voters and to get them in your court,” Moore said. “So, I think that we’ll see what the numbers end up kind of looking like on that, but it would not surprise me if Democrats are losing some steam on that front.”