Monday, July 20, 2009

Voter Turnout

Since the American election, there's been a bunch of conflicting data on what exactly was the voter turnout. This census release is interesting, and maybe a bit surprising:
For all the attention generated by Barack Obama's candidacy, the share of eligible voters who actually cast ballots in November declined for the first time in a dozen years.

Census figures released Monday show about 63.6 per cent of all U.S. citizens ages 18 and older, or 131.1 million people, voted last November.

Although that represented an increase of 5 million voters -- virtually all of them minorities -- the turnout relative to the population of eligible voters was a decrease from 63.8 per cent in 2004.

Those numbers would seem to put a damper on the thesis that Obama really captured people's imagination, the election looks a ho hum affair at first blush. While it's true that the overall percentage was down, the numbers also show that it was really Obama voters that came out, while more traditional Republican support stayed home. Young voters came out in higher percentages, as did all visible minorities- so the overall figures don't quite capture what the Democrats did on their side of the ledger and they tend to mask a real malaise around McCain. The overall numbers might be supressed because some were dejected at their prospects so they stayed home (I can think of similar recent example here).


Anonymous said...

Note also that Republican voters tend to be much older and would have a greater tendency to be sick and infirm on Election Day 2008.

The Pundits' Guide said...

There's one theory that says voters don't switch parties so much as decide whether to vote for their preferred choice (motivated voters) or to stay home (demoralized voters).

This finding you're reporting on certainly might suggest that Republicans were more likely to stay home last time ... enough to counteract the effects of the voter registration drive of the Obama campaign on the overall turnout result.

Undoubtedly the application of such a theory would differ between two-party and multi-party systems, though.

Very interesting. Thanks.

Steve V said...

You could apply this dynamic to our last federal election. Many Liberals stayed home in 2008, which effectively skewed the performance of other parties, in terms of percentages. The NDP saw a rise in pecentage, but was this due to increased appeal, or did the fact that the Liberal voter stayed home bump up the percentage artificially? Given that their overall vote total wasn't up, I think it was the latter.