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Encyclopedia > Voter turnout
Part of a series of articles
on Politics and Elections
Politics Portal · edit
Voters lining up outside a Baghdad polling station during the 2005 Iraqi election. Voter turnout was considered high despite widespread concerns of violence.
Voters lining up outside a Baghdad polling station during the 2005 Iraqi election. Voter turnout was considered high despite widespread concerns of violence.

Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. After increasing for many decades, there has been a trend of decreasing voter turnout in most established democracies since the 1960s. In general, low turnout may be due to disenchantment, indifference, or contentment. Low turnout is often considered to be undesirable, and there is much debate over the factors that affect turnout and how to increase it. In spite of significant study into the issue, scholars are divided on reasons for the decline. Its cause has been attributed to a wide array of economic, demographic, cultural, technological, and institutional factors. There have been many efforts to increase turnout and encourage voting. Vote redirects here. ... For other uses, see Politics (disambiguation). ... This article is about the political process. ... Image File history File links Vote_icon. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Postal voting. ... Abstention is a term in election procedure for when a participant in a vote either does not goes to vote (on election day) or, in parliamentary procedure, isnt absent during the vote, but does not cast a ballot. ... For the town in France, see Ballots, Mayenne. ... Clear sided ballot boxes used in the Haitian general election in 2006. ... Ballot stuffing is the act of one person submitting multiple ballots during a vote in which only one ballot per person is permitted. ... Early voting, or vote banking, not to be confused with absentee voting, allows a voter to cast a ballot in front of an elections official before the official poll date. ... Election Day Registration, also known as same-day voter registration, permits eligible citizens to register and vote on Election Day. ... In party-list proportional representation systems, an election threshold is a clause that stipulates that a party must receive a minimum percentage of votes, either nationally or within a particular district, to get any seats in the parliament. ... An elector can be: In the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, the collegiate of seven Electors (eight since 1648) (Kurfürsten) consisted of those lay or clerical princes who had the right to vote in the election of the king or Holy Roman Emperor; see prince-elector. ... None of the Above (NOTA) is a ballot choice in some jurisdictions or organizations, placed so as to allow the voter to indicate his disapproval with all of the candidates in any voting system. ... The paradox of voting, also referred to as Downs paradox is a reference to the fact that for a rational, self-interested voter, the costs of voting will normally exceed the expected benefits. ... A polling station situated inside a suburban library in the north of Cambridge during the United Kingdom general election, 2005. ... Postal Voting describes the method of voting in an election whereby ballot papers are distributed and/or returned by post to electors, in contrast to electors voting in person at a Polling station or electronically via an Electronic voting system. ... A precinct is a space enclosed by the walls or other boundaries of a particular place or building, or by an arbitrary and imaginary line drawn around it. ... In an open list proportional representation system voters can indicate their preference for a particular individual candidate on a party list by voting for him or her. ... A Protest vote is a vote cast in an election to demonstrate the casters unhappiness with the choice of candidates or the current political system. ... In U.S. elections, when someone shows up at a polling place to cast a vote, but is not on the list of people who may vote there (is not registered in that precinct, or his registation is otherwise invalid or inaccurate), he may be allowed to cast a provisional... A refused ballot, or similar alternative, is a choice available to voters in many elections. ... Elections Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voters choices are confidential. ... In voting, a ballot paper is considered to be spoilt, void, or null if it is regarded by the election authorities to contain irregularities during vote counting, and hence cannot be recorded as a valid vote. ... In voting systems, tactical voting (or strategic voting) occurs when a voter supports a candidate other than his or her sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome. ... A tally (also see tally sticks) is an unofficial private observation of an election count carried out under Proportional Representation using the Single Transferable Vote. ... A ticket refers to a single election choice which fills more than one political office or seat. ... Ticket Splitters are those who split their tickets for public office, voting on the basis of individual personalities and records instead of on the basis of party loyalties. ... Election Technology This box:      A vote center sometimes known as a super precinct is a polling place that combines multiple precincts allowing voters to choose at which location to vote. ... Vote pairing (or vote swapping as it has also been called) is the method where a voter in one district agrees to vote tactically for a less-preferred candidate or party who has a greater chance of winning in their district, in exchange for a voter from another district voting... In politics, voter fatigue is the apathy that the public can experience when they are required to vote too often. ... Voter registration is the shit in some democracies for citizens to check in with some central registry before being allowed to vote in elections. ... A polling station situated inside a suburban library in the north of Cambridge during the United Kingdom general election, 2005. ... A voting machine is a device to record and register votes to be counted as per any voting system, with or without printing a ballot for the voter to verify. ... Image File history File links Iraqi_voters_in_Baghdad2. ... Image File history File links Iraqi_voters_in_Baghdad2. ... Baghdad (Arabic: ) is the capital of Iraq and of Baghdad Governorate. ... Iraqi police officers hold up their index fingers marked with purple indelible ink, a security measure to prevent double voting. ... Vote redirects here. ... For the town in France, see Ballots, Mayenne. ... This article is about the political process. ... Disenchantment (Entzauberung) in social sciences refers to the devaluation of mysticism. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Face-to-face trading interactions on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor. ... Demographics refers to selected population characteristics as used in government, marketing or opinion research, or the demographic profiles used in such research. ... By the mid 20th century humans had achieved a mastery of technology sufficient to leave the surface of the Earth for the first time and explore space. ...

Different countries have very different average voter turnouts. For example, in the United States, approximately 70% of the eligible population registers to vote, which may be an important contributing factor in the low average election turnout, which in recent decades just barely has topped 50% of voting age population in presidential elections. In Australia, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, participation reaches 95%. These differences are believed to be caused by a mix of cultural and institutional factors. For other uses, see Country (disambiguation). ... Compulsory voting is a practice that requires citizens to vote in elections or to attend a polling place to get their name crossed off the electoral roll. ...


Reasons for voting

In any large election the chance of any one vote influencing the outcome is extremely low; a single vote in a voting scheme such as the Electoral College in the United States has an even lower chance of influencing the outcome, and is virtually nill.[1] This causes a difficulty for rational choice theory, in that it seems that a rational individual should not vote. Studies using game theory, which takes into account the ability of voters to interact, have also found that the expected turnout for any large election should be zero.[2] Rational choice theory assumes human behavior is guided by instrumental reason. ... Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is often used in the context of economics. ...

The basic formula for determining whether someone will vote is

PB + D > C.[3]

Here, P is the probability that an individual's vote will affect the outcome of an election, and B is the perceived benefit of that person's favored political party or candidate being elected. D originally stood for democracy or civic duty, but today represents any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting. C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting. Since P is virtually zero in most elections, PB is also near zero, and D is thus the most important element in motivating people to vote. For a person to vote, these factors must outweigh C. Probability is the likelihood that something is the case or will happen. ... Political Parties redirects here. ... Citizenship is membership in a political community (originally a city but now usually a state), and carries with it rights to political participation; a person having such membership is a citizen. ... In economics, utility is a measure of the relative happiness or satisfaction (gratification) gained. ...

Riker and Ordeshook developed the modern understanding of D. They listed five major forms of gratification that people receive for voting: complying with the social obligation to vote; affirming one's allegiance to the political system; affirming a partisan preference (also known as expressive voting, or voting for a candidate to express support, not to achieve any outcome); affirming one's importance to the political system; and, for those who find politics interesting and entertaining, researching and making a decision.[4] Other political scientists have since added other motivators and questioned some of Riker and Ordeshook's assumptions. All of these concepts are inherently imprecise, making it difficult to discover exactly why people choose to vote.

Recently, several scholars have considered the possibility that B includes not only a personal interest in the outcome, but also a concern for the welfare of others in the society (or at least other members of one's favorite group or party).[5][6] In particular, experiments in which subject altruism was measured using a dictator game showed that concern for the well-being of others is a major factor in predicting turnout[7] and political participation.[8] Note that this motivation is distinct from D, because voters must think others benefit from the outcome of the election, not their act of voting in and of itself. For the ethical doctrine, see Altruism (ethics). ... The dictator game is a very simple game in experimental economics, similar to the ultimatum game. ...

The significance of voter turnout

It is often considered that high voter turnouts are desirable, though among political scientists and economists specialising in public choice, the issue is still debated.[9] A high turnout is generally seen as evidence of the legitimacy of the current system. Dictators have often fabricated high turnouts in showcase elections for this purpose. For instance, Saddam Hussein's 2002 referendum was claimed to have had 100% participation.[10] Opposition parties sometimes boycott votes they feel are unfair or illegitimate, or if the election is for a government that is considered illegitimate. For example, the Holy See instructed Italian Catholics to boycott national elections for several decades after the creation of the State of Italy.[11] In some countries, there are threats of violence against those who vote, such as during the 2005 Iraq elections, an example of voter suppression. However, some political scientists question the view that high turnout is an implicit endorsement of the system. Mark N. Franklin contends that in European Union elections opponents of the federation, and of its legitimacy, are just as likely to vote as proponents.[12] Legitimacy in political science, is the popular acceptance of a governing regime or law as an authority. ... A dictator is an authoritarian, often totalitarian ruler (e. ... A show election or a sham election is an election that is held purely for show, that is, without any significant political purpose. ... Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (28 April 1937 – 30 December 2006) was the fifth President of Iraq and Chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council from 1979 until his overthrow by US forces in 2003. ... Iraqi police officers hold up their index fingers marked with purple indelible ink, a security measure to prevent double voting. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Elections in the European Union gives information on election and election results in the European Union. ...

Assuming that low turnout is a reflection of disenchantment or indifference, a poll with very low turnout may not be an accurate reflection of the will of the people. On the other hand, if low turnout is a reflection of contentment of voters about likely winners or parties, then low turnout is as legitimate as high turnout, as long as the right to vote exists. Still, low turnouts can lead to unequal representation among various parts of the population. In developed countries, non-voters tend to be concentrated in particular demographic and socioeconomic groups, especially the young and the poor. However, in India, which boasts an electorate of more than 670 million people, the opposite is true. The poor, who comprise the majority of the demographic, are more likely to vote than the rich and the middle classes. In low-turnout countries, these groups are often significantly under-represented in elections. This has the potential to skew policy. For instance, a high voter turnout among seniors coupled with a low turnout among the young may lead to more money for seniors' health care, and less for youth employment schemes. Some nations thus have rules that render an election invalid if too few people vote, such as Serbia, where three successive presidential elections were rendered invalid in 2003. Pooybuttpular sovereignty is the doctrine that the state is created by and therefore subject to the will of its people, who are the source of all political power. ... For other uses, see Youth (disambiguation) Youth is defined by Websters New World Dictionary as, The time of life when one is young; especially: a: the period between childhood and maturity b: the early period of existence, growth, or development. ... A boy from an East Cipinang trash dump slum in Jakarta, Indonesia shows what he found. ... Paul Kruger in his old age. ... A physician visiting the sick in a hospital. ... Not to be confused with Republika Srpska. ...

Socioeconomic factors

In each nation, some parts of society are more likely to vote than others. In high-turnout nations, these differences tend to be limited: as turnout approaches 90% it becomes difficult to find differences of much significance between voters and nonvoters, but in low turnout nations the differences between voters and non-voters can be quite marked.[13] These differences appear to persist over time—the best predictor of individual turnout is whether or not a person voted in the previous election.[14] As a result, many scholars think of turnout as habitual behavior that can be learned or unlearned, especially among young adults.[15]

However, socioeconomic factors significantly affect whether or not individuals may develop such habits. The most important socioeconomic factor in voter turnout is education. The more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to vote, even when controlled for other factors such as income and class that are closely associated with education level. Income has some effect independently: wealthier people are more likely to vote, regardless of their educational background. There is some debate over the effects of ethnicity, race, and gender. In the past, these factors unquestionably influenced turnout in many nations. Nowadays, the consensus among political scientists is that these factors have little effect in Western democracies when education and income differences are taken into account.[16] However, since different ethnic groups typically have different levels of education and income, there are important differences in turnout between such groups in many societies. Other demographic factors have an important influence: young people are far less likely to vote than the elderly; and single people are less likely to vote than those who are married. Occupation has little effect on turnout, with the notable exception of higher voting rates among government employees in many countries.[17] Income, generally defined, is the money that is received as a result of the normal business activities of an individual or a business. ... Social class refers to the hierarchical distinctions between individuals or groups in societies or cultures. ... This article or section should be merged with ethnic group Ethnicity is the cultural characteristics that connect a particular group or groups of people to each other. ... For other uses, see Race (disambiguation). ... Gender in common usage refers to the sexual distinction between male and female. ...

There can also be regional differences in voter turnout. One issue that arises in continent-spanning nations, such as Canada, the United States and Russia, is that of time zones. Canada attempted to ban the broadcasting of election results in any region where the polls have not yet closed; this ban was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. Timezone and TimeZone redirect here. ... The Supreme Court of Canada (French: Cour suprême du Canada) is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeal in the Canadian justice system. ...

Differences between elections

Within countries there can be important differences in turnout between individual elections. Elections where control of the national executive is not at stake generally have much lower turnouts—often half that for general elections. Municipal and provincial elections, and by-elections to fill casual vacancies, typically have lower turnouts, as do elections for the parliament of the supranational European Union, which is separate from the executive branch of the EU's government. In the United States, midterm congressional elections attract far lower turnouts than Congressional elections held concurrently with Presidential ones.[18] Runoff elections also tend to attract lower turnouts. The United States hold elections to federal offices every two years; midterm elections is the name given to elections when the United States House of Representatives and one third of the US Senate are being elected, but not the President. ... Runoff voting is a voting system used in single-seat elections. ...

In theory, one of the factors that is most likely to increase turnout is a close race. With an intensely polarized electorate and all polls showing a close finish between President George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry, the turnout in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, was close to 60%, resulting in a record number of popular votes for both candidates; despite losing the election, Kerry even surpassed Ronald Reagan's 1984 record in terms of the number of popular votes received. However, this race also demonstrates the influence that contentious social issues can have on voter turnout; for example, the voter turnout rate in 1860 wherein anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln won the election was the second-highest on record (81.2 percent, second only to 1876, with 81.8 percent). Nonetheless, there is evidence to support the argument that predictable election results—where one vote is not seen to be able to make a difference—have resulted in lower turnouts, such as Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election (which featured the lowest voter turnout in the United States since 1924), the United Kingdom general election of 2001, and the 2005 Spanish referendum on the European Constitution; all of these elections produced decisive results on a low turnout. Federal courts Supreme Court Circuit Courts of Appeal District Courts Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures (List) State Courts Local Government Other countries Atlas  US Government Portal      For other uses, see President of the United States (disambiguation). ... George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is the forty-third and current President of the United States of America, originally inaugurated on January 20, 2001. ... Federal courts Supreme Court Circuit Courts of Appeal District Courts Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures (List) State Courts Local Government Other countries Atlas  Politics Portal      Further information: Politics of the United States#Organization of American political parties The Democratic... John Forbes Kerry (born December 11, 1943) is the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts. ... Presidential election results map. ... Reagan redirects here. ... Slave redirects here. ... Presidential electoral votes. ... Tony Blair William Hague Charles Kennedy The UK general election, 2001 was held on 7 June 2001 and was dubbed the quiet landslide by the media. ... On 20 February 2005 a consultative referendum was held in Spain to ask whether the country should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union. ...

Bad weather can reduce turnouts,[19] as can the season and the day of the week (although many nations hold all their elections on the same weekday). Weekend and summer elections find more of the population on holiday or uninterested in politics, and have lower turnouts. When nations set fixed election dates, these are usually midweek during the spring or autumn to maximize turnout. Variations in turnout between elections tend to be insignificant. It is extremely rare for factors such as competitiveness, weather, and time of year to cause an increase or decrease in turnout of more than five percentage points, far smaller than the differences between groups within society, and far smaller than turnout differentials between nations.[20]

International differences

Election turnout in national lower house
elections from 1960 to 1995
Country # of elections Turnout
Flag of Australia Australia* 14 95%
Flag of Malta Malta 6 94%
Flag of Austria Austria 9 92%
Flag of Belgium Belgium* 12 91%
Flag of Italy Italy 9 90%
Flag of Luxembourg Luxembourg* 7 90%
Flag of Iceland Iceland 10 89%
Flag of New Zealand New Zealand 12 88%
Flag of Denmark Denmark 14 87%
Flag of Germany Germany 9 86%
Flag of Sweden Sweden 14 86%
Flag of Greece Greece* 10 86%
Flag of Venezuela Venezuela** 7 85%
Flag of the Czech Republic Czech Republic 2 85%
Flag of Brazil Brazil* 3 83%
Flag of the Netherlands Netherlands*** 7 83%
Flag of Costa Rica Costa Rica 8 81%
Flag of Norway Norway 9 81%
Flag of Romania Romania 2 81%
Flag of Bulgaria Bulgaria 2 80%
Flag of Israel Israel 9 80%
Flag of Portugal Portugal 9 79%
Flag of Finland Finland 10 78%
Flag of Canada Canada 11 76%
Flag of France France 9 76%
Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom 9 76%
Flag of Ireland Ireland 11 74%
Flag of Spain Spain 6 73%
Flag of Japan Japan 12 71%
Flag of Estonia Estonia 2 69%
Flag of Hungary Hungary 2 66%
Flag of Russia Russia 2 61%
Flag of India India 6 58%
Flag of the United States United States**** 9 54%
Flag of Switzerland Switzerland 8 54%
Flag of Poland Poland 2 51%
*Nations with compulsory voting
**Compulsory voting until 1988
***Does not include pre-1968 elections,
when compulsory voting was in place
****Includes only Congressional elections held in same
year as presidential ones. Voter turnout rates for
Midterm election are approximately 10–15 percentage
points lower than the General election immediately
preceding it.
Numbers from Mark N. Franklin's "Electoral
Participation", found in Controversies in Voting
(2001). Includes only "free" elections

Voter turnout varies considerably between countries. It tends to be lower in the United States, Asia and Latin America than most of Europe, Canada and Oceania. Western Europe averages a 77% turnout, the United States closer to 50%, and Latin America 54% since 1945.[21] The differences between nations tend to be greater than those between classes, ethnic groups, or regions within nations. Confusingly, some of the factors that cause internal differences do not seem to apply on a global level. For instance, nations with better-educated populaces do not have higher turnouts. Political scientists have identified two main causes of these international differences—culture and institutions—although this is controversial. In the United States, one of the major institutional factors affecting turnout is the process of voter registration. A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house. ... Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Malta. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Austria. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Belgium_(civil). ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Italy. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Luxembourg. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Iceland. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_New_Zealand. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Denmark. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Germany. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Sweden. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Greece. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Venezuela. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_the_Czech_Republic. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Brazil. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_the_Netherlands. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Costa_Rica. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Norway. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Romania. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Bulgaria. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Israel. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Portugal. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Finland. ... Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ... Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Ireland. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Spain. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Japan. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Estonia. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Hungary. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Russia. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_India. ... Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Switzerland. ... Image File history File links Flag_of_Poland. ... Compulsory voting is a practice that requires citizens to vote in elections or to attend a polling place to get their name crossed off the electoral roll. ...

Cultural factors

Wealth and literacy have some effect on turnout, but are not reliable measures. Countries such as Angola and Ethiopia have long had high turnouts, but so have the wealthy states of Europe. The United Nations Human Development Index shows some correlation between higher standards of living and higher turnout. The age of a democracy is also an important factor. Elections require considerable involvement by the population, and it takes some time to develop the cultural habit of voting, and the associated understanding of and confidence in the electoral process. This factor may explain the lower turnouts in the newer democracies of Eastern Europe and Latin America. Much of the impetus to vote comes from a sense of civic duty, which takes time and certain social conditions to develop. G. Bingham Powell lists four major attitudes that have a strongly positive effect on voter turnout, attitudes that can take decades to develop: UN and U.N. redirect here. ...

  • trust in government;
  • degree of partisanship among the population;
  • interest in politics, and
  • belief in the efficacy of voting.[22]

Demographics also have an effect. Older people tend to vote more than youths, so societies where the average age is somewhat higher, such as Europe; have higher turnouts than somewhat younger countries such as the United States. Populations that are more mobile and those that have lower marriage rates tend to have lower turnout. In countries that are highly multicultural and multilingual, it can be difficult for national election campaigns to engage all sectors of the population.

The nature of elections also varies between nations. In the United States, negative campaigning and character attacks are more common than elsewhere, potentially suppressing turnouts. The focus placed on get out the vote efforts and mass-marketing can have important effects on turnout. Partisanship is an important impetus to turnout, with the highly partisan more likely to vote. Turnout tends to be higher in nations where political allegiance is closely linked to class, ethnic, linguistic, or religious loyalties.[23] Countries where multiparty systems have developed also tend to have higher turnouts. Nations with a party specifically geared towards the working class will tend to have higher turnouts among that class than in countries where voters have only big tent parties, which try to appeal to all the voters, to choose from.[24] Political campaign Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      Negative campaigning is having too much doodoo in your underpants. ... Get out the vote, sometimes GOTV, is a term used to describe two categories of political activity, both aimed at increasing the number of votes cast in one or more elections. ... A multi-party system is a type of party system. ... The term working class is used to denote a social class. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Catch-all party. ...

Institutional factors

Institutional factors have a significant impact on voter turnout. Rules and laws are also generally easier to change than attitudes, so much of the work done on how to improve voter turnout looks at these factors. Making voting compulsory has a direct and dramatic effect on turnout. Simply making voting easier through greater ballot access also increases voting. Conversely adding barriers, such as a separate registration process, can suppress turnout. The salience of an election, the effect that a vote will have on policy, and its proportionality, how closely the result reflects the will of the people, are two structural factors that also likely have important effects on turnout. Compulsory voting is a practice that requires citizens to vote in elections or to attend a polling place to get their name crossed off the electoral roll. ... Voter registration is the shit in some democracies for citizens to check in with some central registry before being allowed to vote in elections. ...

The modalities of how electoral registration is conducted can also affect turnout. For example until "rolling registration" was introduced in the United Kingdom, there was no possibility of the electoral register being updated during its currency, or even amending genuine mistakes after a certain cut off date. The register was compiled in October, and would come into force the next February, and would remain valid until the next January. The electoral register would become progressively more out of date during its period of validity, as electors moved or died (also people studying or working away from home often had difficulty voting). This meant that elections taking place later in the year tended to have lower turnouts than those earlier in the year. The introduction of rolling registration where the register is updated monthly has reduced but not entirely eliminated this issue since the process of amending the register is not automatic, and some individuals do not join the electoral register until the annual October compilation process.

Another country with a highly efficient registration process is France. At the age of eighteen, all youth are automatically registered. Only new residents and citizens who have moved are responsible for bearing the costs and inconvenience of updating their registration.

The elimination of registration as a separate bureaucratic step can result in higher voter turnout. This is reflected in statistics from the United States Bureau of Census, 1982–1983. States that have same day registration, or no registration requirements, have a higher voter turnout than the national average. At the time of that report, the four states that allowed election day registration were Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, and Oregon. Since then, Idaho and Maine have changed to allow same day registration. North Dakota is the only state that requires no registration.[25]

Compulsory voting

One of the strongest factors affecting voter turnout is whether voting is compulsory. In Australia, voter registration and attendance at a polling booth have been mandatory since the 1920s. These rules are strictly enforced, and the country has one of the world's highest voter turnouts. Several other countries have similar laws, generally with somewhat reduced levels of enforcement. If a Bolivian voter fails to participate in an election, the citizen may be denied withdrawal of their salary from the bank for three months.[26]. In Mexico and Brazil, existing sanctions for non-voting are minimal or are rarely enforced. When enforced, compulsion has a dramatic effect on turnout. In Venezuela and the Netherlands compulsory voting has been rescinded, resulting in substantial decreases in turnout. Compulsory voting is a practice that requires citizens to vote in elections or to attend a polling place to get their name crossed off the electoral roll. ... The 1920s is sometimes referred to as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties, usually applied to America. ...


Mark N. Franklin argues that salience, the perceived effect that an individual vote will have on how the country is run, has a significant effect on turnout. He presents Switzerland as an example of a nation with low salience. The nation's administration is highly decentralized, so that the federal government has limited powers. The government invariably consists of a coalition of parties, and the power wielded by a party is far more closely linked to its position relative to the coalition than to the number of votes it received. Important decisions are placed before the population in a referendum. Individual votes for the federal legislature are thus unlikely to have a significant effect on the nation, which probably explains the low average turnouts in that country. By contrast Malta, with one of the world's highest voter turnouts, has a single legislature that holds a near monopoly on political power. Malta has a two-party system in which a small swing in votes can completely alter the executive.[27] On the other hand, countries with a two party system can experience low turnout if large numbers of potential voters (rightly or wrongly) perceive little real difference between the main parties. Voters' perceptions of fairness also have an important effect on salience. If voters feel that the result of an election is more likely to be determined by fraud and corruption than by the will of the people, fewer people will vote.[28] Elections Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      A referendum (plural: referendums or referenda) or plebiscite (from Latin plebiscita, originally a decree of the Concilium Plebis) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. ... Political parties Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      A two-party system is a form of party system where two major political parties dominate the voting in nearly all elections. ...


Another institutional factor that may have an important effect is proportionality, i.e., how closely the legislature reflects the views of the populace. A pure proportional representation system is fully proportional to the votes of the populace and a voter can be sure that he will be represented in parliament even if it is only the opposition bench; the only exception to this rule is for voters of parties that get less than a certain required percentage as a precondition to make it into parliament. Some countries have such "fences" in place, e. g. Germany 5%. By contrast, a plurality system will almost always see districts in which one party is so dominant that there is little reason for voters of other parties to vote because votes for "losing" parties are in a sense lost. Proportional representation (sometimes referred to as full representation, or PR), is a category of electoral formula aiming at a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates (grouped by a certain measure) obtain in elections and the percentage of seats they receive (usually in legislative assemblies). ... The plurality electoral system (or first past the post electoral system), is a voting system for single-member districts. ...

Proportional systems tend to produce multiparty governments (coalition governments). This may reduce salience, since the voters have little influence over which parties are included in the coalition.[29] For instance, after the 2005 German election, the creation of the executive not only expressed the will of the voters of the majority party but also was the result of political deal-making. Although there is no guarantee, this is lessened as the parties usually state with whom they will favour a coalition after the elections. A coalition government, or coalition cabinet, is a cabinet in parliamentary government in which several parties cooperate. ... German federal elections took place on September 18, 2005 to elect the members of the 16th German Bundestag, the federal parliament of Germany. ...

Political scientists are divided on whether proportional representation systems increase voter turnout (which appears to depend on a number of contextual factors).[30] There are other systems that attempt to preserve both salience and proportionality, for example, the Mixed member proportional representation system in New Zealand (in operation since 1996), in Germany and several other countries. However, these tend to be complex electoral systems, and in some cases complexity appears to suppress voter turnout.[31] The dual system in Germany, though, seems to have had no negative impact on voter turnout. Mixed member proportional representation, also termed mixed-member proportional voting and commonly abbreviated to MMP, is a voting system used to elect representatives to numerous legislatures around the world. ...

Ease of voting

Ease of voting is a factor in rates of turnout. In the United States and most Latin American nations, voters must go through separate voter registration procedures before they are allowed to vote. This two-step process quite clearly decreases turnout. U.S. states with no, or easier, registration requirements have larger turnouts.[32] Other methods of improving turnout include making voting easier through more available absentee polling and improved access to polls, such as increasing the number of possible voting locations, lowering the average time voters have to spend waiting in line, or requiring companies to give workers some time off on voting day. In some areas, generally those where some polling centres are relatively inaccessible, such as India, elections often take several days. Some countries have considered internet voting as a possible solution. In other countries, like France, voting is held on Sundays, when most voters are away from work. Therefore, the need for time off from work as a factor in voter turnout is greatly reduced. Voter registration is the shit in some democracies for citizens to check in with some central registry before being allowed to vote in elections. ... In the United States, an absentee ballot is a ballot that the voter receives and (usually) sends through the mail, rather than travelling to a polling place and marking the ballot at a voting booth. ... Electronic voting (also known as e-voting and including Internet voting and other online voting) is any of several means of determining peoples collective intent electronically. ...

Voter fatigue

Main article: Voter fatigue

Voter fatigue can lower turnout. If there are many elections in close succession, voter turnout will decrease as the public tires of participating. In low-turnout Switzerland, the average voter is invited to go to the polls an average of seven times a year; the United States has frequent elections, with two votes per year on average, if one includes all levels of government as well as primaries.[33] Holding multiple elections at the same time can increase turnout; however, presenting voters with massive multipage ballots, as occurs in some parts of the United States, can reduce turnouts.[34] In politics, voter fatigue is the apathy that the public can experience when they are required to vote too often. ... For other uses, see Primary. ...

Measuring turnout

Differing methods of counting voter turnout can contribute to reported differences between nations. In the United States, there is no accurate registry of exactly who is eligible to vote, since only about 70–75% of people choose to register them.[35] Thus, turnout has to be calculated based on population estimates. Some political scientists have argued that these measures do not properly account for the large number of illegal aliens and disenfranchised felons in the United States, and that American voter turnout is higher than is normally reported.[36] Conversely, in New Zealand, registration is supposed to be universal, but historically this system has been unreliable, with a large number of eligible but unregistered citizens, creating inflated turnout figures.[37] It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into illegal immigration. ... A felony, in many common law legal systems, is the term for a very serious crime; misdemeanors are considered to be less serious. ...

Trends of decreasing turnout

Change in voter turnout over time for five selected countries
Change in voter turnout over time for five selected countries

Over the last 40 years, voter turnout has been steadily declining in the established democracies.[38] This trend has been most strongly felt in the United States, and has been significant in Western Europe, Japan and Latin America. It has been a matter of concern and controversy among political scientists for several decades. During this same period, other forms of political participation have also declined, such as voluntary participation in political parties and the attendance of observers at town meetings. The decline in voting has also accompanied a general decline in civic participation, such as church attendance, membership in professional, fraternal, and student societies, youth groups, and parent-teacher associations.[39] At the same time, some forms of participation have increased. People have become far more likely to participate in boycotts, demonstrations, and to donate to political campaigns.[40] Image File history File links Turnout. ... Look up Boycott in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Demonstrators march in the street while protesting the World Bank and International Monetary Fund on April 16, 2005. ...

Before the late 19th century, suffrage — the right to vote — was so limited in most nations that turnout figures have little relevance to today. One exception was the United States, which had near universal white male suffrage by 1840. The U.S. saw a steady rise in voter turnout during the century, reaching its peak in the years after the Civil War. Turnout declined from the 1890s until the 1930s, then increased again until 1960 before beginning its current long decline.[41] In Europe, voter turnouts steadily increased from the introduction of universal suffrage before peaking in the mid to late 1960s, with modest declines since then. These declines have been smaller than those in the United States, and in some European countries turnout have remained stable and even slightly increased. Globally, voter turnout has decreased by about five percentage points over the last four decades.[42] Combatants United States of America (Union) Confederate States of America (Confederacy) Commanders Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee Strength 2,200,000 1,064,000 Casualties 110,000 killed in action, 360,000 total dead, 275,200 wounded 93,000 killed in action, 258,000 total...

Reasons for decline

Many causes have been proposed for this decline; a combination of factors is most likely. When asked why they do not vote, many people report that they have too little free time. However, over the last several decades, studies have consistently shown that the amount of leisure time has not decreased. The perception that one is busier is common, and might be just as important as a real decrease in leisure time. Geographic mobility has increased over the last few decades. There are often barriers to voting in a district where one is a recent arrival, and a new arrival is likely to know little about the local candidate and local issues. The average age of first marriage has increased, and divorce rates have skyrocketed. Single people are generally less likely to vote. Francis Fukuyama has blamed the welfare state, arguing that the decrease in turnout has come shortly after the government became far more involved in people's lives. He argues in Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity that the social capital essential to high voter turnouts is easily dissipated by government actions. However, on an international level those states with the most extensive social programs tend to be the ones with the highest turnouts. American voter turnout is much lower than European turnout despite the generally much higher level of welfare in European countries.[citation needed] There is also an album by Blur called Leisure. ... Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse. ... Francis Fukuyama Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama (born October 27, 1952, Chicago, Illinois) is an American philosopher, political economist and author. ... The Welfare State of the United Kingdom was prefigured in the William Beveridge Report in 1942, which identified five Giant Evils in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. ... Social capital is a core concept in business, economics, organizational behaviour, political science, and sociology, defined as the advantage created by a persons location in a structure of relationships. ...

In the United States, the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal may have caused voters to lose faith in their political leaders during the 1960s and 1970s. Many other nations saw a similar period of protest and alienation during this era, in part linked to the demographic effect of the baby boom. Trust in government and in politicians has decreased in many nations. However, the first signs of decreasing voter turnout occurred in the early 1960s, which was before the major upheavals of the late 1960s and 1970s. Robert D. Putnam argues that the collapse in civil engagement is due to the introduction of television; it is true that the long decline in voter turnout started during the rapid introduction of television in the 1950s and 1960s. As television became the main form of leisure, traditional group-based recreations such as bowling leagues and bridge clubs declined in importance.[43] Rosenstone and Hansen contend that the decline in turnout is the product of a change in campaigning strategies as a result of the so-called new media. Before the introduction of television, almost all of a party's resources would be directed towards intensive local campaigning and get out the vote initiatives. In the modern era, these resources have been redirected to expensive media campaigns in which the potential voter is a passive participant.[44] During the same period, negative campaigning has become ubiquitous in the United States and elsewhere. It has been argued that attack ads and smear campaigns give voters a negative impression of the entire political process. The evidence for this is mixed: elections involving highly unpopular incumbents generally have high turnout; some studies have found that mudslinging and character attacks reduce turnout, but that substantive attacks on a party's record can increase it.[45] Combatants Republic of Vietnam United States Republic of Korea Thailand Australia New Zealand The Philippines National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam Democratic Republic of Vietnam People’s Republic of China Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea Strength US 1,000,000 South Korea 300,000 Australia 48,000... The Watergate building. ... A baby boom is any period of greatly increased birth rate during a certain period, and usually within certain geographical bounds. ... Robert David Putnam (born January 9, 1941 in Rochester, New York) is a political scientist and professor at Harvard University, well-known for his writings on civic engagement, civil society, and social capital, a concept of which he is probably the leading exponent. ... Get out the vote, sometimes GOTV, is a term used to describe two categories of political activity, both aimed at increasing the number of votes cast in one or more elections. ... Political campaign Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      Negative campaigning is having too much doodoo in your underpants. ... An attack ad in election terms is an advertisement whose message is meant as an attack against another candidate or political party. ...

The decline in voter turnout is almost wholly concentrated among young people. Those who began voting prior to 1960 maintain the same high turnout rates of that era. For each subsequent generation, starting with the one that came of age in the 1960s, turnout has steadily declined. Recent programs to increase the rates of voting among young people—such as MTV's "Rock the Vote" and the "Vote or Die" initiatives in the United States—may have marginally increased turnouts of those between the ages of 18 and 25 to vote.[46] A number of governments and electoral commissions have also launched efforts to boost turnout. For instance Elections Canada has launched mass media campaigns to encourage voting prior to elections, as have bodies in Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Rock the Vote is a non-profit political advocacy organization founded in Los Angeles in 1990 by Jeff Ayeroff, co-chief of Virgin Records. ... Citizen Change is a political service group, founded by music mogul P. Diddy, and backed by Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent. ... The Electorial Commission is an independent body with powers in the United Kingdom, which was created by an Act of Parliament, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. ... Elections Canada is the non-partisan agency of the Government of Canada responsible for the conduct of federal elections and referendums. ...


Much of the above analysis is predicated on voter turnout as measured as a percentage of the voting-age population. In a 2001 article in the American Political Science Review, Michael McDonald and Samuel Popkin argued, that at least in the United States, voter turnout since 1972 has not actually declined when calculated for those eligible to vote, what they term the voting-eligible population.[47] In 1972, noncitizens and ineligible felons (depending on state law) constituted about 2% of the voting-age population. By 2004, ineligible voters constituted nearly 10%. Ineligible voters are not evenly distributed across the country - 20% of California's voting-age population is ineligible to vote - which confounds comparisons of states. Furthermore, they argue that an examination of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey shows that turnout is low but not declining among the youth, when the high youth turnout of 1972 (the first year 18–20 year olds were eligible to vote in most states) is removed from the trendline. The American Political Science Review, or APSR as its often referred to, is the flagship publication of the American Political Science Association and one of the most prestigious journals in the field of contemporary political science. ...


  1. ^ Satoshi Kanazawa. "A Possible Solution to the Paradox of Voter Turnout." The Journal of Politics. p. 974
  2. ^ Kanazawa p. 975
  3. ^ The basic idea behind this formula was developed by Anthony Downs in 1957, the formula itself was developed by William H. Riker and Peter Ordeshook in 1968.
  4. ^ Riker and Ordeshook, 1968
  5. ^ Jankowski, Richard. 2002. "Buying a Lottery Ticket to Help the Poor: Altruism, Civic Duty, and Self-Interest in the Decision to Vote." Rationality and Society 14(1): 55–77.
  6. ^ Edlin, Aaron, Andrew Gelman, and Noah Kaplan. 2007. "Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others." Rationality and Society.
  7. ^ Fowler, James H. "Altruism and Turnout," Journal of Politics 68 (3): 674–683 (August 2006)
  8. ^ Fowler, James H., Kam CD "Beyond the Self: Altruism, Social Identity, and Political Participation," Journal of Politics 69 (3): 811–825 (August 2007)
  9. ^ See Mark N. Franklin. "Electoral Engineering and Cross National Turnout Differences." British Journal of Political Science, who attempts to challenge some of this consensus
  10. ^ CNN - Saddam gets perfect poll result
  11. ^ Katz p. 242
  12. ^ Franklin. "Electoral Engineering"
  13. ^ Franklin. "Electoral Engineering"
  14. ^ Fowler, James H. "Habitual Voting and Behavioral Turnout," Journal of Politics 68 (2): 335–344 (May 2006)
  15. ^ Plutzer, E. "Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources, and Growth in Young Adulthood." American Political Science Review 96, no. 1 (2002): 41–56.
  16. ^ Sigelman, L., Roeder, P. W., Jewell, M. E., & Baer, M. A. (1985). Voting and nonvoting: A multi-election perspective. American Journal of Political Science, 29(4), 749–765.
  17. ^ Sigelman, L., Roeder, P. W., Jewell, M. E., & Baer, M. A. (1985). Voting and nonvoting: A multi-election perspective. American Journal of Political Science, 29(4), 749–765.
  18. ^ Lijphart. p. 12
  19. ^ Kanazawa p. 975
  20. ^ G. Bingham Powell "Voter Turnout in Thirty Democracies." in Electoral Participation.
  21. ^ IDEA - Regional differences
  22. ^ G. Bingham Powell. "American Voter Turnout in Comparative Perspective." The American Political Science Review. 1986 p. 19.
  23. ^ Powell "Thirty Democracies." p. 14
  24. ^ Powell. p. 13
  25. ^ U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1982–83, Table no.804, p.492
  26. ^ The Guardian Compulsory voting around the world
  27. ^ Mark N. Franklin. "Electoral Participation." in Controversies in Voting Behavior p. 87
  28. ^ Richard S. Katz. Democracy and Elections. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  29. ^ Robert W. Jackman and Ross A. Miller. "Voter Turnout in the Industrial Democracies During the 1980s." in Elections and Voting Behaviour: New Challenges, New Perspectives. p. 308
  30. ^ Katz p. 240
  31. ^ Powell "Thirty Democracies." p. 12
  32. ^ Richard G. Niemi and Herbert F. Weisberg. Controversies in Voting Behavior p. 31
  33. ^ Franklin "Electoral Participation." p. 98
  34. ^ Arend Lijphart. "Unequal Participation: Democracy's Unresolved Dilemma." American Political Science Review.
  35. ^ Katz p. 239
  36. ^ Niemi and Weisberg "Introduction." Controversies in Voting Vehavior. p. 25
  37. ^ Katz p. 334
  38. ^ Niemi and Weisberg p. 31
  39. ^ Robert D. Putnam "Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America." in Controversies in Voting Behavior p. 40
  40. ^ Niemi and Weisberg. p. 30
  41. ^ Walter Dean Burnham. "The Appearance and Disappearance of the American Voter."
  42. ^ Lijphart p. 6
  43. ^ Putnam p. 61
  44. ^ Steven J. Rosenstone and John Mark Hansen. "Solving the Puzzle of Participation in Electoral Politics." p. 73
  45. ^ Niemi and Weisberg p. 30.
  46. ^ Eisner, Jane. "Rock the Vote, now 15, eager to help drive policy." Philadelphia Inquirer 12 June 2005. 12 July 2005
  47. ^ Michael McDonald and Samual Popkin. "The Myth of the Vanishing Voter" in American Political Science Review.

Anthony Downs is a noted scholar in public policy, and since 1977 is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.. Downs has served as a consultant to many of the nations largest corporations, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the White House. ... William Harrison Riker (September 22, 1920 - June 26, 1993) was an influential political scientist, who advanced the field of political science through his application of game theory and mathematics to the field. ... Peter Ordeshook is currently a Professor of Political Science at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, where its Social Science program is considered to be the top Economics and Political Science Ph. ... James H. Fowler (born 1970) is an American political scientist who specializes in social networks, cooperation, and political participation. ... James H. Fowler (born 1970) is an American political scientist who specializes in social networks, cooperation, and political participation. ... James H. Fowler (born 1970) is an American political scientist who specializes in social networks, cooperation, and political participation. ...


  • Franklin, Mark N. "Electoral Engineering and Cross National Turnout Differences." British Journal of Political Science. 1999
  • Kanazawa, Satoshi. "A Possible Solution to the Paradox of Voter Turnout." The Journal of Politics.
  • Lijphart, Arend. "Unequal Participation: Democracy's Unresolved Dilemma." American Political Science Review. vol. 91 (March 1997): 1–14. p. 12
  • McDonald, Michael and Samuel Popkin. "The Myth of the Vanishing Voter." American Political Science Review. 2001.
  • Niemi, Richard G. and Herbert F. Weisberg. eds. Controversies in Voting Behavior. Washington, D.C: CQ Press, 2001.
  • Norris, Pippa. Elections and Voting Behaviour: New Challenges, New Perspectives. Aldershot: Ashgate, Dartmouth, 1998.
  • Rose, Richard, ed. Electoral Participation: A Comparative Analysis. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1980.
  • Wolfinger, Raymond E. and Steven J. Rosenstone. 1980. Who Votes? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Wolfinger, R., Glass, D., Squire, P.(1990). Predictors of electoral turnout:an international comparison. Policy Studies Review, 9(3), p551–574, 24p
  • Highton, B. (1997, May). Easy registration and voter turnout. The Journal of Politics, 59(2), pp.565–575.

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Voter Turnout - dKosopedia (543 words)
Voter turnout is usually ten to thirty percentage points lower in elections other than Presidential elections (such as state and local general elections and primary elections) than it is in elections where a Presidential race is at issue.
Whatever the reason, increasing voter turnout is potentially one of the most promising means by which progressives can make a long term positive shift in the political makeup of the American electorate, and as a result, see more progressive public policies instituted by those people who are elected.
Therefore, increasing voter turnout should be a priority for the progressive movement.
  More results at FactBites »



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