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VOTER TURNOUT

Statistics on voter turnout presented here show that the much-lamented decline in voter participation is an artifact of the way in which it is measured.  The most typical way to calculate the turnout rate is to divide the number of votes by what is called the "voting-age population" which consists of everyone age 18 and older residing in the United States.  This includes persons ineligible to vote, mainly non-citizens and ineligible felons, and excludes overseas eligible voters.  When turnout rates are calculated for those eligible to vote, a new picture of turnout emerges, which exhibits no decline since 1972. (See graph of voter turnout.)

The response to these facts have been mixed.  The Census Bureau and the Center for the Study of the American Electorate now report citizen-voting-age-population turnout rates, which does account for the largest ineligible group, non-citizens.  Many professors around the country assign the publications accompanying this research to their classes.  Still, many pundits and academics continue to opine about voting declines.  Some are actively trying to discredit the research since it refutes a large volume of academic research (what one leading set of authors described as the "most studied, most conjectured, and most important trend in the study of American government").

Please see the FAQ for answers to commonly asked questions.

Who's Using My Numbers Now?  A Tip of the Hat to...

 

Opinions

"Super Tuesday Turned into a Super Flop" Roll Call, Feb. 11, 2008.
"Collapsible Candidates from Iowa to New Hampshire."  The Brookings Institution, Jan. 9, 2008.
"The Generational Turnout War."  The Brookings Institution.  Jan. 7, 2008.
"The Who Tube Debate?"  The Brookings Institution, Opportunity 08.  July 24, 2007.  
"Rocking the House: Competition and Turnout in the 2006 Midterm Election."  The Forum 4(3).  Dec. 2006.
"The Competitive Problem of Voter Turnout." The Washington Post.  Oct. 31, 2006.
"5 Myths About Turning Out the Vote."  The Washington Post.  Oct. 29, 2006.
"Supreme Court Lets the Politicians Run Wild."  Roll Call. June 29, 2006.
"Re-Redistricting Redux."  The American Prospect.  March 6, 2006.
"Wrong Conclusion on Redistricting."  The Washington Post. Letter to the Editor, Nov. 1, 2005.
"EAC Survey Sheds Light on Election Administration."  (with Kimball Brace) Roll Call.  Oct. 27, 2005.
"Up, Up and Away! Voter Participation in the 2004 Presidential Election."  The Forum (2):4.  Dec 2004.
"2004 May Signal More Voter Interest." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  Nov 27, 2004.
"California Recall Voting: Nuggets of California Gold for Voting Behavior."  The Forum (1):4.  Dec. 2003.
"Turnout's Not as Bad as You Think."  (with Samuel L. Popkin) The Washington Post.  Nov. 5, 2000.
 

Reports

Memo on Florida Voter Registration Address Errors
Brennan Center Report on analysis of vote fraud claims in New Jersey
2005 Virginia Turnout Up from Four Years Ago
Report on the 2004 Election Day Survey to the Election Assistance Commission
Critique of the Berkeley Voting Study
Brookings Report on eligible voters for the 2004 election.
Brookings Report on aggregate registration statistics (1996-2004) plus selected demographics of registration from the 2002 Current Population Survey.

California 2003 Recall Pre-Election Turnout Prediction

   

Voter Turnout Statistics
Be aware that these data are based on government data sources that are continually revised and updated.  I construct my estimates on the best available data and update to reflect new releases.  Please read the FAQ for detailed descriptions of methodologies and links to available data. 

General Elections Presidential Primaries

Data Resources

  • Excel spreadsheet, 1980-2006: Turnout 1980-2006.xls
  • State data, 1980-2000 (ICPSR Study 1248, publicly available)  Note: these archived data are not consistent with the new 1998-2006 estimates available on this web site.  The most current source of data are available on the Excel spreadsheet, above. 

Academic Articles

  • Michael P. McDonald and Samuel Popkin. 2001. "The Myth of the Vanishing Voter." American Political Science Review 95(4): 963-974LINK.
  • Michael P. McDonald 2002.  "State Turnout Rates Among Those Eligible to Vote." State Politics and Policy Quarterly (2) 2.
  • Michael P. McDonald.  2003. "On the Over-Report Bias of the National Election Survey." Political Analysis 11(2): 180-186.  Supporting data.
  • Michael P. McDonald. 2007. "The True Electorate: A Cross-Validation of Voter File and Election Poll Demographics." Public Opinion Quarterly 71(4): 588-602.

Media Coverage

More Voter Turnout Links

    Dr. Michael McDonald
Department of Public and International Affairs
George Mason University
4400 University Drive - 3F4
Fairfax, VA 22030-4444

Office: 703-993-4191
Fax: 703-993-1399
Email: mmcdon@gmu.edu