2008 Voter Turnout Same as 2004
It turns out that, despite a huge rise in voter registrations, actual turnout Tuesday was essentially the same as in 2004.
61 Percent of Eligibles Voted
A new report from American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate concludes that voter turnout in Tuesday’s election was the same in percentage terms as it was four years ago — or at most has risen by less than 1 percent.
The report released Thursday estimates that between 126.5 and 128.5 million Americans cast ballots in the presidential election earlier this week. Those figures represent 60.7 percent or, at most, 61.7 percent of those eligible to vote in the country.
Democrat Showed Up, Republicans Stayed Home
“A downturn in the number and percentage of Republican voters going to the polls seemed to be the primary explanation for the lower than predicted turnout,” the report said. Compared to 2004, Republican turnout declined by 1.3 percentage points to 28.7 percent, while Democratic turnout increased by 2.6 points from 28.7 percent in 2004 to 31.3 percent in 2008.
“Many people were fooled (including this student of politics although less so than many others) by this year’s increase in registration (more than 10 million added to the rolls), citizens’ willingness to stand for hours even in inclement weather to vote early, the likely rise in youth and African American voting, and the extensive grassroots organizing network of the Obama campaign into believing that turnout would be substantially higher than in 2004,” Curtis Gans, the center’s director, said in the report. “But we failed to realize that the registration increase was driven by Democratic and independent registration and that the long lines at the polls were mostly populated by Democrats.”
Electoral College Pitfalls
Some experts also note that national turnout trends may mask higher turnout in swing states with more intensive attempts by both campaigns to get their supporters to the polls. Several large states, including California and New York, had no statewide races and virtually no advertising or get-out-the-vote efforts by either presidential campaign.
We’ll get more data in the coming weeks and months and be able to assess this more accurately. Democrats, especially young and African-American Democrats in swing states, were extremely energized in this election but Republicans, whether because of lack of enthusiasm for John McCain or because the polls made the outcome seem inevitable, were not.
Further, the Electoral College system, which renders the presidential vote in most states essentially irrelevant, makes it hard to justify bothering. If you’re a Republican in California or D.C. or a Democrat in Texas or Alabama, your vote simply doesn’t count. So, unless you’re spurred by civic pride or down ballot elections, it’s hard to get motivated.