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Voter turnout, the enthusiasm gap, and the Malta model

October 22, 2010

In a list of 32 countries that do not have mandatory voting laws, voter turnout figures range between 51% and 95% as measured over 1960 through 1995 for national lower house elections.  Malta gets top honors, a full 2 percentage points above runner-up Austria.  Other notables include Italy (90%), New Zealand (88%), Germany (86%), Israel (80%), Canada (76%), France (76%), United Kingdom (76%), Spain (73%), India (58%), United States (54%) … what’s that?  Yes, tied for second-to-last, a 35-year ranking posts us second-to-last in voter turnout below Russia (61%) and tied with Switzerland.

Of the six countries in my list with compulsory voting legislation, the average voter turnout is 88.8%.  For the voluntarily voting, it is 77.0%.

Focusing in on the United States and examining voter turnout numbers from 1980 to 2008, we bottomed out in 1986 and 1998 with 38.1% of eligible casters risking life and limb to cast their vote.  The most participated election was 2008 with 61.7% of eligible voters doing the deed.  Another interesting fact from the data set from which I’m working is the increase in other metrics of the voting-age population.  Over the 28 years covered by the data, the number of eligible voters has increased 33.2%, equivalent to an average annual growth rate of 1.03%.  The percent non-citizen population has increased over three times as fast (3.22% per year).  Over this period of 1980 to 2008, the number of voting-ineligible felons has increased 319.4%;  that means it has tripled and then some in 28 years, which is equivalent to a 5.25% annual growth rate.  If I had no other information I would conclude that we are growing felons five times faster than we are eligible voters.

Nationwide mid-term election data for the last two and a half decades indicates that voter turnout ranges from 31.0% (Mississippi) to 57.8% (South Dakota), with the average being 42.7% (Ohio, California).  The maximum voter turnout for any state in any mid-term election?  64.1% in Minnesota during the 2002 elections.  The lowest?  Virginia turned out only 23.4% in 1998.

So what will be the participation for the 2010 mid-term elections?  I am optimistic that we’ll beat our worldwide standing of 54% and maybe even see a larger percentage of the voting-eligible population come out this November 2 than did in 1990 when 56.3% of Montanans braved the hideously beautiful setting sun to make their voice heard.    But 56.3% of anything is a paltry sum.  And when we’re talking about people voting in this country, it is pathetic.  Double it, multiply by 60%, and we get 67.6%.  That is the benchmark I am watching.  If we hit or surpass it, I will remain hopeful that the American majority is again taking an interest in things civic.  Below that and we’ll need to dust off Plan C and see what she says.

Personally, I am voting for a balance of power this year.  As I said last year, a slow and boring federal government is a lot more of what we need for the next few years.  But whether or not my mid-term dream comes true, pleased I will be if the turnout is historically large.  That will say something as important as any voter mandate to “go left” or “go right;”  a healthy showing at the ballot boxes sends a strong message to the elected victor, the political loser, the next potential candidate, and those in office at present.  It says:  We’re watching.  Don’t pick your nose.

  1. The Castleton Crusader :) AKA Kristi Nastars permalink
    October 22, 2010 4:22 pm

    Hugo…I pray you are right and that lethargic America wakes up and votes!!! I have not missed a vote in well over 15 years….and I am often the only one in my polling place….we live in the greatest country God has ever givin man and we are dying a slow and agonizing death due to greed, apathy and the blame game…America has treated her citizens with grace and freedom…it is about time we remove the shackles and let her soar again!! VOTE!!!

    • Hugo permalink*
      October 22, 2010 4:33 pm

      Well put, CC! You are Hugoville’s Patriot of the Month. Congratulations. You are now eligible for the grand prize. … Keep it up, but don’t keep it to yourself. We’re proud of you and grateful to have you as a friend here.

  2. Probitee permalink
    October 27, 2010 8:49 pm

    The electorate is feeling alienated by the disgraceful and negative spectacle politicians seeking office have exhibited during these midterm campaigns, that will, I fear, be the harbinger of a low voter turnout.Voting is a right and privilege that should not be taken for granted so I hope your dream is realized.

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