The stunning^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H slight increase in voter turnout

Henry posted some great links to voter turnout data and discussions of the topic by Michael McDonald. Henry’s graph is here.

Just for fun, I decided to redisplay the information; here is my version:


I’ve updated it with the latest estimate as of 9 Nov 2008.

Key differences between my graph and Henry’s:

1. I go back to 1948, Henry starts at 1980.
2. My y-range goes from 45% to 65%; Henry goes all the way from 0 to 100.
3. Henry’s graph labels every election; I label every 20 years.
4. Henry’s graph is in gray with many black horizontal lines and a blue line with data; mine is black and white with a line and with data points indicated by dots.

Items 1 and 2 above are the most important; I think: by showing a shorter time range and compressing the y range, Henry makes the changes look less impressive. I understand the rationale for including the whole y-range here, but in this case, since changes are being discussed, and a 5% change is, historically, a big deal, I prefer my graph. I did extend the y-scale out to the [45%,65%] range, though, because I wanted to give a little bit of perspective; it would somehow seem misleading for the data to cover the entire y-range in this case.

In any case, I’m not trying to criticize Henry here; making graphs is just something I like to do, and something I like to think about.

P.S. Below is my (updated) R code, for those of you who want to play at home:

# turnout time series

turnout.year <- seq (1948,2008,4) turnout.vap <- c(.511,.616,.593,.628,.619,.609,.552,.535,.528,.533,.503,.550,.489,.512,.553,NA) turnout.VEP <- c(.522,.623,.602,.638,.628,.615,.562,.548,.547,.572,.542,.606,.526,.556,NA,.601) turnout.VEP[turnout.year==2004] <- turnout.vap[turnout.year==2004] + (turnout.VEP[turnout.year==2000] - turnout.vap[turnout.year==2000]) n <- length (turnout.year) png ("turnout.png", height=300, width=400) par (mar=c(4,4,2,0), tck=-.01, mgp=c(2,.5,0)) plot (turnout.year, turnout, type="l", xlab="Year", ylab="Percentage of voting-agenpopulation who turned out to vote", xaxt="n", yaxt="n", bty="l", ylim=c(.45,.65)) points (turnout.year[1:(n-1)], turnout[1:(n-1)], pch=20) points (turnout.year[n], turnout[n], pch=21, cex=1.2) axis (1, seq(1960,2000,20)) yticks <- seq (.45,.65,.05) axis (2, yticks, paste(yticks*100,"%",sep="")) mtext ("Voter turnout in postwar presidential elections", line=1)

11 thoughts on “The stunning^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H slight increase in voter turnout

  1. 2008 saw an increase in turnout, but not by that much. McDonald's 62.4% figure is for his "voting-eligible" population, not the true voting-age population. Actual vote/VAP looks to be around 57.5%, a modest uptick from 2004.

  2. the share of income going to the top 1 percent or however smaller a fraction you want to make it inversely mirrors the voter turnout percentages

  3. I hope you're only being nice when you say that you don't want to criticize the graph; it was deliberately done using the most horrible options in Excel in the hope that it would provoke you into issuing a correction on The Monkey Cage (although I didn't expect a post; merely reproof in comments). The original version was _even worse_ – it left in the Excel default option of describing the data as 'Series 1' – but then I thought, 'what if Andrew doesn't respond out of politeness, and I then have to own this graph completely'

  4. How did turn out by race change? Kerry and Obama both carried 90+% of African-Americans, but were there many more voting in this election?

  5. Henry: I think you're kidding here, but I have to admit I'm not sure.

    Charlie: In 2008 the exit polls have 74% white, 13% African-American, 9% Latino, 2% Asian, 3% other. In 2004: 77% white, 11% African-American, 8% Latino, 2% Asian, 2% other.

    Dj: I think they haven't counted all the votes yet.

  6. Not to pile on, but your sometime co-author Nate Silver wrote on Wednesday, "Total turnout should be somewhere in the 125-130 million range, actually not that much higher than 122 million that turned out in 2004, but still very impressive by modern standards."

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