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Additional Evidence on Voter Turnout:

This article reports on studies by political scientist Curtis Gans that show that voter turnout this year increased only modestly, at most. As Gans points out, there was a significant increase in the raw total of votes from about 122.3 million in 2004 to as many as 128.5 million this year. However, he calculates that there was only a slight increase in percentage turnout of those eligible. As I pointed out in this post, there was a 4.7% increase in the number of people eligible to vote between 2004 and 2008. Taking the upper range of Gans' estimate of total votes in 2008, we see a 5.0% increase since 2004, almost exactly equal to the population increase.

Gans suggests that there may been lower turnout among Republicans since 2004, offsetting higher turnout by Democrats. However, the decline in the Republican percentage of the electorate is likely instead due to the fact that fewer people identify as Republicans than in 2004. Only 28% of Americans now self-identify as Republicans, compared to 33% in 2004. This decline in Republican identification is actually larger than Gans' estimate of the decline in the percentage of Republicans in this year's voter turnout (a fall to 28.7% from 30% in 2004).

As I mentioned in my last post on this subject (linked below), some other scholars are making different predictions, and I think we might still end up with final numbers showing a modest increase in turnout. But it looks like there was not the massive increase that Democratic activists and much of the media have been trumpeting. Ironically, however, this is actually good news for the Democratic Party. It suggests that Obama's victory was not the result of a one-time, unusually high turnout by first-time and "sporadic" voters. It may also be good news for those of us who believe that the objective of increasing voter turnout is overrated and oversold.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Additional Evidence on Voter Turnout:
  2. There (Probably) Was No Great Increase in Voter Turnout this Year:
Jim Anderson (mail) (www):
I wonder how the Electoral College factors in. Was turnout up or down (or neither) in "battleground" states as compared to sure-bets?
11.10.2008 8:09pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Andrew Gelman posts an update on presidential election voter turnout along with a graph of turnout versus year going back to 1948.
My [McDonald's] revised national turnout rate for those eligible to vote is 61.2% or 130.4 million ballots cast for president. This represents an increase of 1.1 percentage points over the 60.1% turnout rate of 2004. . . .
Gelman links to McDonald who presents details covering all states. Despite the presence of Sarah Palin on the ticket Alaskan turnout was 6.7% less than 2004, the largest drop of any of the states. Based on a quick look, States with high black populations do seem to have had a significantly bigger turnout. Georgia 6.1%, Alabama 4.6%, North Carolina, 8.6% South Carolina 5.8%, DC 3.0.
11.10.2008 8:54pm
JB:
It may also be good news for those of us who believe that the objective of increasing voter turnout is overrated and oversold.

Advocates of greater turnout have forgotten that greater turnout is only an intermediate goal.

The idea is that people who vote are more likely to pay attention to politics, so over time if more people vote they will be better-informed. If that proposition is wrong, or if there are other roadblocks to becoming better-informed, greater turnout will in the long run not have a beneficial effect. If it is right, however, added turnout will be very beneficial.
11.10.2008 9:00pm
mls (www):
Is it possible that there was a large turnout of younger, first-time or sporadic voters, partially offset by a lower turnout of other voters?
11.10.2008 9:33pm
MarkField (mail):
Why do we keep seeing such different estimates of the turnout? Gans' is on the low end; I've seen other estimates as high as 133 million. Before everyone starts drawing conclusions, it would seem to be a good idea to get a better fix on the actual numbers.
11.10.2008 9:49pm
Frank M Howland (mail):
These are interesting posts and I hope you will keep us informed of research in this area.

The article you link to doesn't do a good job of distinguishing between turnout as measured by the fraction of registered voters who voted versus an increase in the number of voters. I would say that a GOTV operation should be measured on the basis of an increase in the number of voters relative to the increase in eligible population over 18, whether or not registrations increase.

The differences between states are intriguing. According to the article, Pennsylvania saw an increase of above 10% in the number of voters, while Ohio saw a decrease. Both states are growing very slowly in population, perhaps 1% between 2004 and 2008. I suppose it could be that the GOP's GOTV campaign was a lot worse in 2008 than in 2004 in Ohio.

Also, the increase in the black vote is apparently a big deal. The black population increased by perhaps 7% over the four years (this is just a rough estimate based on US Census figures for 2000 and 2007, computing the annual rate of growth as 1.6% for blacks). But a two percentage point increase in blacks as a fraction of the total electorate on a base of 11 percentage points is close to 20%, when you factor in the fact that the electorate grew as well.

All of this of course depends on estimates and preliminary figures.
11.10.2008 10:07pm
Frank M Howland (mail):
Correction on my previous post:

I looked at the McDonald link and then went to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State site and found that the number of voters in the Presidential race was about the same in 2008 and 2004: 5.85 million in 2008 and 5.77 million in 2004, with 2008 results not quite complete. So the statement in the Politico news article that Ilya linked to is flat wrong, there were only about 80,000 more voters in Pennsylvania, not 690,000!

Ohio's official figures for 2004 match the article's but not those for 2008, though it appears that the number of voters may have fallen a bit.

The point I made about black voters still stands, but I don't know how good is the evidence on black participation.
11.10.2008 11:43pm
Brian K (mail):
It may also be good news for those of us who believe that the objective of increasing voter turnout is overrated and oversold.

hence the voter suppression efforts carried out by some republicans.

(gotta counter the inevitable linking to democratic voter "fraud")
11.10.2008 11:51pm
James Gibson (mail):
Quite a number of people on TV and radio are noting the discrepancy between the projections and the actual number of votes (Not counting the Minnesota Senate race). What I like is the fact no one seems to understand why the turn out was so low when we all saw the long lines at early voting.

I found that out when I went to try and vote early. When you go to vote regular, your name is in a book of registered voters for that district and you sign another to validate you were there. In early voting they have one station that covered the equivalent of 10 districts. Fewer voting machines then they would have at the regular ten stations and they validated you through a single phone modem connection to the central office. This is why it took so long, and forced so many to wait.

In the end all early voting did was lock in votes a few weeks early and give the impression of a large democratic turn out. It was in truth all show and little substance. But it makes for good discussion.
11.11.2008 1:41am
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Umm, James Gibson, I don't think you know what you are talking about. Just because it was not that much higher than 2004 does not mean it was low. Indeed, 2004 was a very, very high turnout and 2008 was even higher. Compare 2004 to every election before it back to 1964 (I believe) and it was higher than every single one -- even those elections featuring His Holiness Saint Reagan. Thus 2008 was the highest turnout in 2 generations, with 2004 just behind it.

Ilya seems to be glossing over this point as well, i.e. that he is comparing to 2004 which was a big, big turnout, rather than against the more "typical" elections.
11.11.2008 2:03am
Reality Check:
You made my point for me, Greedy Clerk. Thank you.
11.11.2008 11:23am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Why do we keep seeing such different estimates of the turnout?
Why do we keep seeing any estimates of the turnout? Unlike demographic breakdowns of the vote which rely on exit polling, turnout statistics rely on counting. (Okay, and arithmetic.) Add up the votes cast.
11.11.2008 11:27am
akwhitacre (mail):
Regarding Alaska's turnout, have there been any decent explanations for why/how there was such a pronounced drop-off, esp. considering that the governor was a national candidate?
11.11.2008 11:44am
Craig Oren (mail):
Ilya says there's been a 5.0% increase in population since 2004. Is that also a 5.0% increase in adult population? That would seem to be the relevant parameter.

Note also there seems to have an increase in the proportion of blacks in the voting population. True, this increase seems to be only a percentage point or two. But consider: in 2004, black voters were 10% of those voting. Even an increase to 11% requires a 10% increase, which is pretty impressive. And the increase has to be even higher considering that there were more votes cast in the 2008 election than in 2004.
11.11.2008 11:46am
Christopher Cooke (mail):
I take issue with Ilya's fundamental premise: that more people shouldn't be voting. He can dress it up in whatever arguments he wants but he is essentially advocating that only people of a certain educational level or knowledge about the issues should be voting in the first place. Does anyone else not find these sentiments out of place in a democracy? If the problem is voter apathy/ignorance, why not focus on getting more eligible people registered to vote AND educated about the issues. I have read Ilya's posts, and know his arguments, and they essentially boil down to an extreme form of paternalism--"Only those of us who know the most should be ruling the world."

Apart from the elitist nature of his remarks, I note this fundamental flaw in his arguments: how much "knowledge" should be sufficient to qualify one to vote --i.e., when can we say that someone knows enough to be one of the voters whose votes we wish to encourage---and who decides this point. By Ilya's standards, Sarah Palin, who apparently does not know much about geography (NAFTA/Africa is a country), the Supreme Court (no knowledge of Supreme Court decisions apart from Roe), the US Constitution (erroneous understanding of VP role), likely should not have been voting (or rather, it would be a good thing if she didn't vote). While I did not think Ms. Palin was qualified to be the President, I would not be arguing that she should not be voting.
11.11.2008 12:53pm
gasman (mail):

What I like is the fact no one seems to understand why the turn out was so low when we all saw the long lines at early voting.

As has been attributed to Yogi Berra: Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded.

The long lines in the morning were the result of media hype convincing people that there would be long lines. At my precinct the lines were longest fifteen minutes after opening, which was coincidentally the moment I queued; it took me about 80 minutes to vote. The line was inside the door and no more than 5 minutes long the remainder of the day.

Another instance where the media, instead of merely reporting the news (reporting post hoc that there were lines or are lines), is the cause of the news (reporting that there will be lines).
11.11.2008 12:57pm
Pauldom:
It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to vote on the first day of early voting. Every day, the lines at that site grew longer (according to data available from the county election supervisor).

On election day, one precinct was located at my university. Students lined up before polls opened, and several students told me they had waited 3 hours to vote that morning. At the end of the day, this precinct was the last in my county to close; students were still waiting to vote more than 3 hours after polls closed statewide (because as long as you were in line before the polls closed, they let you vote).

I suspect that the voting experience differed dramatically depending on when/where you voted.

gasman, the media reporting that there "will be" lines would be an argument for many to NOT show up.
11.11.2008 1:24pm
MarkField (mail):

Why do we keep seeing any estimates of the turnout? Unlike demographic breakdowns of the vote which rely on exit polling, turnout statistics rely on counting. (Okay, and arithmetic.) Add up the votes cast.


Agreed. People keep making "estimate" and then drawing conclusions. What they should be doing is waiting for the final count.
11.11.2008 1:34pm
Cheaper Trolls, Ltd:
I take issue with Ilya's fundamental premise: that more people shouldn't be voting. He can dress it up in whatever arguments he wants but he is essentially advocating that only people of a certain educational level or knowledge about the issues should be voting in the first place. Does anyone else not find these sentiments out of place in a democracy?


Of course these sentiments are out of place in a democracy.

But —nonetheless— you're seriously out of order here.

Most of us have better manners: It's just uncivil to disagree with Ilya about his contempt for the common man. You're not going to pursuade him to the popular ideal. So it's just rude and ill-mannered to bring it up. You should apologize.

Look, in their blackest heart-of-hearts, these so-called conservatives are truly monarchists. Always have been, always will be. You can't change 'em.

So be polite. Just delight in the fact that our republic has grown up enough to allow dissent from all these tories who'd still be happier crushed under the brutal heel of the British tyrant.


 

 

©2008 Cheaper Trolls™
11.11.2008 1:37pm
Perseus (mail):
Of course these sentiments are out of place in a democracy.

But the U.S. isn't a democracy (thankfully).
11.11.2008 2:07pm
Cheaper Trolls, Ltd:
Of course these sentiments are out of place in a democracy.

But the U.S. isn't a democracy (thankfully).


Bravo, sir.

The fashionably-educated man eternally prefers Latin over anything Greek.

 

 

©2008 Cheaper Trolls™
11.11.2008 2:25pm
Perseus (mail):
The fashionably-educated man eternally prefers Latin over anything Greek.

The Founders were much more than merely fashionably-educated men. And speaking of the Founders, your rhetoric is a delightful reminder of the party struggles between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. Being a Hamiltonian "monocrat" "paper aristocrat" Federalist, I, of course, did my part to suppress voter turnout among my students.
11.11.2008 2:58pm
Felix Sulla:
Bravo, sir.

The fashionably-educated man eternally prefers Latin over anything Greek.
True in the modern era, but remember, a good Roman was considered a rude hick, at best, without a proper Greek education.
11.11.2008 4:10pm
PeterWimsey (mail):
<i>But the U.S. isn't a democracy (thankfully).</i>

Yes, it is.

<blockquote>

Main Entry:
de·moc·ra·cy Listen to the pronunciation of democracy
Pronunciation:
\di-ˈmä-krə-sē\
Function:
noun
Inflected Form(s):
plural de·moc·ra·cies
Etymology:
Middle French democratie, from Late Latin democratia, from Greek dēmokratia, from dēmos + -kratia -cracy
Date:
1576

1 a: government by the people ; especially : rule of the majority b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections2: a political unit that has a democratic government3capitalized : the principles and policies of the Democratic party in the United States "from emancipation Republicanism to New Deal Democracy — C. M. Roberts"4: the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority 5: the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges


</blockquote>

I suppose there must be some sort of secret libertarian membership ritual in which any time someone mentions the term "democracy," libertarians are required to loudly (and wrongly) proclaim that we do not live in a democracy, but a constitutional republic blah, blah, blah.

If someone claimed that we lived in a pure democracy, I'd be all for correcting them. But since we happen to live in a democracy, claims that we don't are really just distracting.
11.11.2008 4:44pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I have read Ilya's posts, and know his arguments, and they essentially boil down to an extreme form of paternalism--"Only those of us who know the most should be ruling the world."
Since Ilya is a libertarian, I'm quite certain that he doesn't equate voting with "ruling the world."

Paternalism involves telling other people what to do because you know better than they do; libertarians don't want to tell other people what to do.
11.11.2008 5:00pm
RPT (mail):
Well, what is missing from this discussion is the topic of the day for all McCain fans over the last month...the dreaded ACORN fraudulent vote that threatened the very fabric of our democracy. Where is it? Where was it? How many votes very fraudulently cast and counted? How many GOP candiates prevented from taking office? Is this another example of the Comet Kohoutek (sp?) syndrome?
11.11.2008 5:09pm
Perseus (mail):
I suppose there must be some sort of secret libertarian membership ritual in which any time someone mentions the term "democracy," libertarians are required to loudly (and wrongly) proclaim that we do not live in a democracy, but a constitutional republic blah, blah, blah.

I'm not a libertarian, but as someone familiar with democracy in its ancient Greek original, I do insist on the distinction in order to highlight the decidedly non-democratic elements in our Constitution, which are indeed based in part on the belief that while the people may intend the public good, they frequently fail to judge correctly (which education can only partially remedy).
11.11.2008 5:23pm
Nym:
From an 1824 letter by Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee:

Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties:

1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.

2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests.

In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, liberals and serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, whigs and tories, republicans and federalists, aristocrats and democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last appellation of aristocrats and democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.
11.11.2008 6:07pm
John Skookum (mail):
Sarah Palin, who apparently does not know much about geography (NAFTA/Africa is a country)

These accusations come from one anonymous source, the "Martin Eisenstadt" hoaxer, and have been denied on the record by Gov. Palin and a number of her advisers. But they were swallowed whole by the entire mainstream media, and will be part of left-wing folklore long after we are all dead and gone, as proven by your ignorant repetition of them a week after they were debunked. Thank God for fact-checking bloggers, or the lie would now be the truth, just like the Dan Rather forgeries.

Joe Biden confabulated something about Lebanon, Hezbollah, and France in front of an audience of 60 million that can only be characterized as hallucinatory. It had not the slightest grounding in history or geography. If Sarah Palin had said it, it would have been mentioned in every single story about her from then until the end of time.

the Supreme Court (no knowledge of Supreme Court decisions apart from Roe)

It was actually a list of Supreme Court decisions which she believes were wrongly decided. A moderately complicated question, and one which would have provided even more opportunity for mirth if she had made a mistake. Lawyers are trained to spit citations out as easily as they breathe, but the rest of us often remember the injustice better than the names of the parties to the suit.

I have a doctoral degree and have been politically engaged my entire adult life. If I were asked this question in an interview, especially a hostile one in which I knew the interviewer was trying to trip me up, I MIGHT have been able to correctly come up with Dred Scott and Kelo off the top of my head. Maybe.

I can think of perhaps a dozen others in the comfort of my living room, but I don't always know the parties to the suit. For example, the case that ruled in favor of McCain-Feingold was a perversion of everything our Founding Fathers believed, but I do not recall who sued whom. I don't hold this minor flub against Mrs. Palin either, and I think it is a worthy goal to get more lawyers out of government and more ordinary people in.


the US Constitution (erroneous understanding of VP role)

Her first pronouncement, "what is it the VP really does?", was obviously a rhetorical question. She wanted to know what her role in a hypothetical McCain administration would have been.

Her subsequent simplification of the role ("in charge of the Senate") for explanation to a third grader was 100% Constitutionally correct. The fact that no Vice President since Alben Barkley has exercised his power of routinely presiding over the day-to-day meetings of the Senate does not change that.

Taken together, these statements might well have been a signal that Gov. Palin intended to take a more active role in the daily business of the Senate, which would have caused grumbling from the old bulls but could not have been prevented.

Moreover, she never made nearly the bungle that Joe Biden, supposed professor of Constitutional law, made about the VP's role in their debate.

The Left dismisses Sarah Palin at its own peril. She is a quick study and a supernaturally gifted populist campaigner. She was green this time around, I agree, but when she returns to a national campaign, I suspect she will have a much more formidable command of national and international politics, and will be able to speak about them much more smoothly. And if she's smart, she will have spent much of that time schmoozing the housewives of America on daytime TV. If she had been able to change the minds of only 12% of the women who voted against her ticket, she'd be Madame Vice President-Elect today.

As leftists are wont to sneer, a good 60% or so of the electorate are "low information" voters who tend to vote with their guts rather than their brains. This time around, they decided to give the black guy a chance, by a comfortable but not overwhelming margin. I can easily see them deciding it's a woman's turn in four or eight years.
11.13.2008 12:12pm