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October 22, 2002

Myth of Declining Voting Turnout

Every election we inevitably have discussions about Americans failure to turnout to vote. Given how much gerrymandering has made elections a foregone conclusion, it's amazing how many people do turnout in off-years.

But at least one study I found argues that even the declines we talk about are actually a myth and due to statistical errors. In the Myth of Vanishing Voter , an academic paper so be ready to slog through the stats, the authors argue that measured declines in voting rates are based on really bad measuring stats that throw in everyone from immigrants to felons into the potential "voting age population", which is thereby artificially inflated, and the actual voting percentage therefore artificially reduced.

Even with the increased eligible voting population due to youth voting after 1972, with this study's corrected data, turnout in 1992 was the same as in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact the lowest postwar turnout election was 1948- a bit bizarre given the four-party competition that year but this probably reflects the intense suppression of southern black voting. Since southern blacks began a massive expansion of voting in 1960s, the steadiness of voting rates means the only real change was a corresponding decline in voting in the North during the 1960s. But since 1972 there's been no really big movement in voting rates according to this data.

What this means is that most of the claptrap about the horrors of negative ads on TV effecting turnout has little basis in fact. The weakening of urban political machines probably explain some of the decline in the North, but the outstanding issues are structural-- the freeing of the black vote in the South, the removal of some voters by criminalization, the rise of immigrants without voting rights, and so on. If the Left wants to seriously address expansion of voting, we need to address those structural questions-- amnesty and naturalization of immigrants and restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time, especially the millions who lost the vote to nonviolent drug convictions.

Posted by Nathan at October 22, 2002 02:13 PM

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Just curious, I see some weird layout when loading this blog using Mac OSX. Maybe it is only my problem.

Posted by: traceroute at October 12, 2003 08:16 AM

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