It’s difficult to draw conclusions from the outcome of Tuesday’s primary races.
Did the incumbent win because the voters were satisfied with the job they were doing? Did the challenger win or do unexpectedly well because voters are dissatisfied with the current leadership and are demanding change?
No one can say for sure whether dissatisfaction or satisfaction with the status quo had anything to do with who won and lost in Tuesday’s primaries.
The only definitive conclusion one can draw is that voter turnout — or more specifically, lack of turnout — played a significant role in the outcomes.
Let’s take the Democratic primary for Schenectady mayor, which was won by a very narrow margin by two-term incumbent Gary McCarthy over Thearse McCalmon, a local candidate with no political experience who was making her first bid for public office.
One could say that McCarthy got the votes he needed to win because voters wanted him back. One also could say the fact that McCalmon came within a whisker of knocking the long-time mayor off his own party line is an indication that voters want a change.
But here’s the problem with drawing such conclusions. Only 11.8 percent of registered Democrats in the city bothered to turn out for Tuesday’s primary.
More to the point, out of 14,955 registered Democrats in the city, 13,178 of them — or 88.2 percent — stayed home.
Low voter turnout tends to favor the most motivated. If you can stir up enough supporters to come out, and enough people on the other side stay home, you can overcome long odds.
Proof? Schenectady almost got a new mayor, thanks to a tiny percentage of eligible voters.
Maybe most people still like McCarthy. But they didn’t show it at the polls, and they almost blew it. Maybe a lot more people wanted McCalmon to win.
She needed less than half of 1 percent of the total eligible voters to knock him off the line. Bu they didn’t show.
The primary for the Working Families Party line was even closer, 21 votes for McCalmon and 25 to a write-in candidate. McCalmon could have overcome that if five more supporters showed up.
It wasn’t just this race where a few more voters could have turned the tide.
In Saratoga Springs, incumbent city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan is in danger of losing the coveted Democratic Party line in November to Patricia Morrison, as her opponent clung to a 31-point lead out of more than 1,400 votes cast.
Even Gov. Andrew Cuomo was complaining Wednesday, when the candidate he endorsed to win the Queens district attorney primary lost to a socialist progressive candidate. The governor said the result wasn’t an indication of a shift in voter preferences, but rather an anomaly of low voter turnout.
The lesson here is that if you want to effect change, getting off your duffs and spend 15 minutes in a polling place.
Those of you who wanted one candidate or the other blew your chance by staying home.
Your vote can make a significant difference in who represents you.
Tuesday’s results are the proof.