Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Shape of Voter Turnout 2010

Who will turnout today and how do you compare it to previous elections?

Here’s a simple guide to what to watch for and how to measure voter turnout in the 2010 midterm.
  1. Compare turnout to 2006 more than 2008. Presidential turnout is always, on average, 20 plus points higher. Voter turnout is best compared to the last similar election, the 2006 midterm.
  2. Not all states are the same. Some like Louisiana or New Jersey elect their state offices in the odd years. Their turnout will be lower. High profile US Senate races or gubernatorial contests may boost turnout is some states like Colorado or California. States with Election Day registration – like Wisconsin and New Hampshire – always average higher turnout.
  3. Overall turnout percent will not be known right away. There are too many variables like mail and provisional ballots. Many will cite turnout as a percent of registered voters but it’s not the best measure. Lists of registered voters include people who may not live in the jurisdiction and excludes others who are there but deemed inactive voters. The real turnout measures are percent turnout of all eligible voters or any increase or decrease in total ballots cast compared to 2006, adjusted for population change.
  4. The most immediate gauge is the national major media exit poll used by CNN, the New York Times and others of who turned out and how they voted.
  5. Share of the vote. The exit polls will say right away what demographics turned out as a share of who did vote this year. What was a group’s share of the total electorate compared to 2006? Was it greater or less? Here are sample share of the vote demographics from 2006 as a benchmark.
Women 51%. There is not much gender gap in voter turnout. But there can be in partisan preference.
White 79%, African-American 10%, Latino 8%, Asian 2%. Latinos are the fastest growing population. Will this get reflected in a large share of the vote?
Household income below $50,000 40% Above $50,000 60%.
By age: Youth (18-29) 12%. Young voters represented 18% of the electorate in 2008 so they’ll be a lot talk of drop off of youth voting. But the question is did young voters match their 2006 turnout, improve on it or go down. Any improvement is a good sign that the growth in youth voting in recent years is continuing. Any drop from the 2006 would be a slide backwards.

6. Partisan voting patterns - Who votes for who. The exit polls will break down who voted for who by a broad range of demographics. It also notes when people made their voting decision and what issues were of top concern as they did.

Websites to go to for reliable breakdowns of voter turnout and partisan choices.

National Exit Polls 2006 - for comparison
National Exit Polls 2010 from CNN. Look for the national poll under House races.
National Exit Polls 2010 from the New York Times
General voter turnout - The US Election Project - They have good data on early voting as well as state by state turnout.

For a look at past elections, check out our profile of state by state turnout and participation gaps. America Goes to the Polls.


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