Virginia Votes 2012: Turnout across localities

About two-thirds of Virginians voted last Tuesday!

65.3% of eligible Virginians voted in last week’s presidential election (based on unofficial results and an estimate of the number of eligible voters in Virginia*).  This represents a modest decline from 2008, when 66.7% of eligible Virginians voted, but the drop off in 2012 is minor at less than 2% and turnout in 2012 is still on the high end for Virginia historically.

Graphic showing voter turnout in Virginia over the past three decades

How does turnout across the state in 2012 compare to 2008?

Below is a scatterplot of 2012 turnout by 2008 turnout in each county and independent city in Virginia. I labeled places that saw a change of 5% or more in either direction. The solid line represents the point at which 2012 turnout equals 2008 turnout. Points above the line saw their turnout increase over 2008; points below the line saw their turnout decline from 2008.

A graphic showing turnout among Virginia localities in 2008 and 2012 presidential elections

Mostly, turnout rates in 2012 followed those in 2008 — the points are clustered pretty tightly around the straight line. But some of Virginia’s most populous localities saw bigger than average declines in turnout. Here’s the same graphic, but with the localities weighted by the number of eligible voters.

Most of the bigger circles, representing localities with larger populations, fall somewhere below the solid line. Obama won 10 of Virginia’s 15 most populated localities (those with 2010 population over 100,000) despite the lower turnout in these areas. And he won them by about the same margins.

The declines in turnout from 2008 seem pretty uniform across the state, with little variation across race or other demographic characteristics, an unusual result in U.S. elections. For instance, turnout didn’t decline, on average, in places with more blacks or Hispanics. Indeed, the patterns in 2008 and 2012 are remarkably stable. Given how much the 2008 election served to broaden the electorate — inviting more and different kinds of people — this stability is a win for the democratic process.

Michele Claibourn is a Research Associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service where she specializes in statistical modeling and civic engagement. She’s the author of Presidential Campaigns and Presidential Accountability.

*This is an estimate of turnout using the number of presidential votes reported by Virginia’s State Board of Elections (supplementing some missing precincts with information from the relevant county election offices) and an estimate of the number of voting age citizens in each locality (extrapolated from American Community Survey data).