Thursday, July 27, 2006

Turnout: how bad is it in the US?

Well, compared to other countries, voter turnout in the United States is awful. Previous posts have emphasized that recent voter turnout in the US is not doomed to stay in the dumps compared to our own high turnout days of the 1950s and 1960s. That is the good news. But there is bad news and that is that US turnout sucks a root compared to other countries. Below is a table adapted from the Wikipedia article on turnout. As can be seen, the US is at the bottom of the list with Switzerland and India, and both of those countries also lag far behind the other nations.

Table.--International comparison of average voter turnout.


Note: *country has compulsory voting law, **turnout as % of VAP, ***turnout as % of VEP where VAP is Voting Age Population, and VEP is Voting Eligible Population. N is number of elections used to estimate average turnout. US elections are for presidential years, others for lower house elections.

Table adapted from article Voter Turnout, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_turnout.

The tables and graphs in the Wikipedia Voter Turnout article is a little sloppy because the turnout figures are not always for the voting eligible population, particularly for the US. I recalculated the US figure using the VEP, and it doesn't make much difference, the US still trails the pack, except for Switzerland.

Some of the statistics for other countries do not restrict to the eligible voting population either, but it makes little difference. Look how little difference the rise in ineligible population makes in the US -a rise from essentially zero to ten percent. For the US to catch up to the third lowest country, Japan, the eligible population of Japan would have to be overestimated by 20%.

So, it looks like the US has really lousy voter turnout compared to other countries. The list in the Wikipedia article has many more countries, all of which are also ahead of the US. But many of these countries, such as Russia, Estonia and Romania, have only had two or three elections that could be used, so they were omitted.

There is really nowhere to turn. Statistics on voter turnout as a proportion of registered voters get about the same result -everyone is higher than the US.

Bottom line is that US voter turnout for elections is a disgrace.

previous post in this series