National Turnout Rates and Rankings

For 2012 election-related commentary, please see these recent posts :

  1. Forget Ohio, it’s all about Virginia…and demographics
  2. Virginia Votes 2012
  3. Virginia Votes 2012:  Turnout across localities
  4. Lower turnout in 2012 makes the case for political realignment in 2008

As an extension of Michele’s recent post on turnout in Virginia, I decided to take a look at turnout rates at the national level.  Using data from Michael McDonald’s U.S. Elections Project, CQ Press county election results, and the U.S. Census Bureau, I analyzed patterns in voter turnout rates for recent presidential elections.

Virginia’s statewide turnout rate in 2008 ranked as one of the highest in the nation.  In 2008, Virginia ranked 13th in turnout compared to other states with a record-setting 67.0% of eligible voters showing up at the polls, much higher than the national average of 61.6% and higher than other southern states. Continue reading

Red State, Blue State: Voting in Context

We released a report today on demographic change in Virginia and what it means for presidential election outcomes in the state. One takeaway from the study – of surprise to no one who follows elections closely – is that the impact of demographic changes on presidential elections in the state have been muted by differential turnout rates among demographic groups. For instance, minority voters, a growing population that has favored Democratic presidential candidates in recent elections, have lower turnout rates than do white voters.

Lots of things influence turnout. A study on demographic change will, reasonably enough, emphasize demographic factors. But the decision to show up at the polls on Election Day isn’t simply a function of individual attributes. People who vote (or don’t) are not simply better (or worse) citizens.

They vote, as well, because their neighbors or co-workers vote; because a campaign asked them to vote; because they believe to some degree that politicians care what people like them think. They don’t vote because they moved in the past year and are no longer properly registered; because they don’t have the time to vote between childcare, commuting to work and work itself; because they are ill or disabled; and because they don’t like their choices or don’t think the outcome will change anything of relevance to their lives.

Finally, individuals respond to deliberate policy choices, such as: state voter ID laws; new regulations of voter registration and restrictions on early voting; and ex-felon disenfranchisement laws.

Continue reading