Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP pollster, has finally put to rest the myth that a majority of US voters did NOT vote this election as President Obama insisted when he said, “To everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”
If true, this would surely indicate our system has serious issues. The real problem? It is not true. Rather, it is more accurate to say a majority of the Voting Eligible Population did not vote. Registered voters are something completely different.
To be in the VEP all you have to do is be 18 and an American citizen (minus a disqualifier like being a felon). But to be a registered voter you actually have to be registered to vote. Thus, as Shull and McInturff indicate, what we actually should have are two different turnout rates, one for VEP and registered voters.
Thanks to information provided by the US Elections Project this is fairly easy to calculate (as seen below). Note these numbers are subject to some revision as final ballot counts are certified by various election offices in December.
Estimated Number of Votes Cast: 82.3 million
Estimated Number of Registered Voters: 153.2 million*
Estimated VEP: 227.2 million
Turnout Among RVs: 82.3 million ÷ 153.2 million = 53.8%
Turnout Among the VEP: 82.3 million ÷ 227.2 million = 36.2%
President Obama is wrong. A majority of registered voters did vote this cycle. A majority of VEP individuals did not.
It is accurate to say that turnout was down this cycle from the 2010 midterm. However, the drop from 89.2 million to 82.3 million registered voters is largely attributable to five states. As Shull and McInturff write, “five states that account for just more than a quarter of the U.S. population. Compared to 2010, turnout was down by approximately 2.6 million in California, 800,000 in New York, 700,000 in Ohio, 500,000 in Missouri, and 500,000 in Pennsylvania. In addition to being relatively large, what these states had in common was no Senate election and either no Governor’s race or a non-competitive one.”
Further, as POS notes, due to random chance only 52% of the population lived in states with Senate elections. Let’s also keep in mind most Senate elections were not that competitive this cycle. Thus, when you combine the fact that almost half of the population lived in states devoid of a Senate election and many races were uncompetitive hitting a 53% RV turnout rate is not bad historically (nor is 36% of the VEP).
It is also worth mentioning, building on Schull’s and McInturff’s analysis that some of the states with the most competitive gubernatorial and Senatorial elections saw the highest turnout. Consider the examples below.
Maine: While Maine did not have a competitive Senate race it saw a competitive three-way gubernatorial race. Turnout among RV’s was the highest in the nation at 59.3%.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin saw an extremely competitive gubernatorial race and it showed. Lacking a Senate race the state still saw a RV turnout rate of 56.9%, the second highest in the nation.
Alaska: Alaska featured competitive Senatorial and gubernatorial elections. This led the state to have an RV turnout rate of 53.8%, third highest in the nation. This is doubly impressive when one considers the geography of the state (though the Begich campaign’s operation might have aided in turnout).
Colorado: Colorado had it all; competitive Senatorial and gubernatorial elections and an all new mail voting system. The result was a turnout rate among RVs of 53.4%, edging out Oregon’s 52% rate.
Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire: All three of these states featured mildly competitive to extremely competitive Senatorial or gubernatorial elections. All three also had both. Turnout rates among RVs for all three states clustered right under or above 50%.
It is also notable that three of the four biggest states in the country, NY, TX, and CA had extremely low turnout rates. CA saw a turnout of 30.3%, TX a mere 28.5% and NY 28.8%. Florida which had a few competitive Congressional races and a Gubernatorial contest did better with 42.7%.
All in all, considering the various factors involved in this election turnout was not that bad. So, perhaps the President and his party should stop blaming the election results largely on turnout.
Addendum: Even Charles Schumer acknowledges Democrats paid a heavy price for the issues they ran on this cycle, especially Obamacare.
Addendum 2: It would be nice if writers and the media would stop saying it is Republicans who benefit from low turnout. Obviously, the fact the GOP won in states with the highest turnout indicates differently.