Low turnout expected in R.I. primary

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In one week, Rhode Islanders will select presidential candidates on their respective party ballots, though voter turnout in the primary is expected to be low. 

The Rhode Island presidential primary will take place Tuesday, April 24 in various polling locations across the state.

In the Republican primary, voters will choose between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Buddy Roemer. President Obama is the only candidate listed on the Democrat primary ballot. On both parties’ ballots, voters can designate themselves uncommitted or write in their own candidate.

Since Rick Santorum announced the suspension of his presidential campaign April 10, Mitt Romney has been the undisputed favorite to win the Republican nomination, though Gingrich and Paul also remain in the national race. The state’s voters are not likely to influence the direction of the race.

Despite the seemingly decided nature of the Republican race, primaries are still important for candidates because they predict voter turnout for the general election, said Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy. “Once you cast a primary vote, you are much more likely to vote in the general election,” she said.

Brown’s Republican Club is not endorsing a specific candidate, said Terrence George ’13, the club’s president, though “most students have been in favor of Romney, with some in favor of Ron Paul.” Students in the club are free to support and campaign for any candidate, he added. 

George estimated that five to 10 percent of Brown students identify as conservative. More than 100 students are members of the Republican Club, according to the group’s listserv, while approximately 20 attend an average meeting.

Romney is the candidate most likely to run a strong campaign against Obama, said Shawn Patterson ’12, president of the Brown Democrats.

Patterson and Schiller predicted low voter turnout for the Rhode Island presidential primaries, because the general election candidates for both parties have all but been determined. 

Rhode Island holds its primary for state leaders at a later date, which contributes to even lower voter turnout, Schiller said.

Many students said they have lost interest in the Republican primary since Romney established a clear lead, but those still following the race were focused on issues such as health care, women’s reproductive rights, gay marriage, a social safety net and unemployment. 

Some students felt alienated from some candidates based on their positions on these issues. “Some of them kind of terrify me,” said Cassidy Bennett ’15, of the remaining Republican candidates. 

George said that to gain widespread support, a Republican candidate “would need to express how exactly he plans to reinvigorate the economy and bring jobs back to this country.”  

The Rhode Island primary is semi-closed, meaning a voter can participate only in the primary of the party for which he or she registered. A voter can register as unaffiliated, but he or she becomes affiliated with a party upon voting in that party’s primary. Polling will be held on campus in Salomon from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 24.

 Following the primary, Rhode Island will send 19 delegates to the Republican National Convention, which begins August 27.