The case for high turnout rested, in essence, on three factors: the condition of the economy in general and unemployment in particular, the deep polarization between the two major parties and summer polls of citizen interest in the election. Historically, almost every recent election that was held coincident with high unemployment and perceptions of recession (e.g. 1982, 1992 and 2008) had high turnout. Polarization (2004) and polarization-plus in the unique and perceived transformative candidacy of Barack Obama (2008) produced the highest turnouts since 1960 and 1968 respectively. And summer polls by the Pew Center and Gallup showed potential voter interest running at about the same level (around 27 percent of the electorate paying close attention to the race) as at a similar time during the two previous presidential elections. Read the full post here.
A report on primary turnout by the country’s long standing expert on voter turnout, Curtis Gans, raises my eyebrows for two reasons. First, primary turnout was down and at a record low. Second, Gans’s suggestion that the low primary turnout may presage lower voter turnout in November goes against the hopes and analysis of most experts. On the record low primary turnout, the first question that demands to be asked is: “Why? Why in 2012 was presidential and other statewide primary turnout lower than ever?” One obvious reason cited by Gans is that we had only a race on the Republican side, not the Democratic. But we have had that situation frequently, in 2004 and 1996 most recently, and still 2012 was lower than those comparable years. Read the full post here.
Regardless what either political party does to get out the vote this November or how enthusiastic voters are as they go to the polls, one outcome is virtually guaranteed the day after the election: a quadrennial howl of despair over low voter turnout. It’s hard not to read the 2012 primary turnout data produced by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE) and the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and not feel that scream begin to form in the throat. Read the full post here.
By Doug Chapin
A new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Curtis Gans at the Center for the Study of the American Electorate finds that turnout in the 2012 Presidential primaries “slumped to the lowest level since presidential primaries proliferated in 1972.” Based on the turnout data, the report suggests that “between 95 and 100 million eligible American citizens will not vote in November.” That’s obviously a big number, and one which should concern any American who believes in the idea that democracy gives individuals a voice in the nation’s future. But should it concern election geeks? More particularly, should those women and men who are directly responsible for conducting elections (and those of us who care about them) feel some sense of responsibility for voter turnout, good or bad? Read the full post here.
The Bipartisan Policy Center has produced a report that invites questions about how we conduct primaries and why, in the context of a well-designed electoral system suited for the U.S. in this second decade of the twenty-first century. I’m not a statistician, and thus I will take as given the accuracy of its overarching statistical conclusion: from a national perspective, voter turnout was essentially at a “record low” during this year’s primary process. The question I wish to address is what electoral policy implications flow from this record low turnout. Read the full post here.
One might have thought that a polarizing national election, featuring two nominees with vastly different personalities, backgrounds, and policies, might have been preceded by a bracing primary election contest. Well, it doesn’t seem that was the case. Why not? Firstly, because as the charts in this study demonstrate, volatility in turnout tends to come from one party’s voters – Democratic primary voters. Republican nomination fights are, unfortunately, pretty predictable. With rare exception, Republicans tend to nominate the candidate whose “turn” is up. So the suspense (when there is any) in a Republican primary is concentrated in a few early contests, but afterwards feels a little like paging through a suspense novel after having read the last chapter. Read the full post here.
By Rob Richie
Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate has joined with the Bipartisan Policy Center to issue his latest report on voter turnout in the United States. There are those who disagree with Gans on some of the finer points of his methodology and on his analyses of proposed electoral reforms, but that misses the broader point: Gans has made a remarkably valuable contribution to our discourse and understanding of voter participation for decades. His latest report is no exception. Read the full post here.