United States Elections Project

Projected California 2003 Recall Turnout Rate

I project a turnout rate of 43.4% among eligible voters for the upcoming California governor's election, based on a recent LA Times report indicating that 3.1 million absentee ballots have been requested. This number is used to make a projection of the turnout rate through the following steps:

  1. A 1984 LA County report on absentee ballot return rates finds that nearly 80% of absentee ballots are returned (this is the only report on absentee return rates that I am aware of). This means that approximately 2.5 million absentee ballots will be cast.
  2. The Secretary of State's office reports that 27.1% of all ballots were absentee in the 2002 governor's election (see: http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/hist_absentee.htm). If this proportion is consistent, then 9.2 million total ballots will be cast. (Note: California now has permanent absentee balloting, and absentee ballots cast have been steadily increasing as a percentage of all ballots cast, which means that this estimate of total ballots cast is likely too high).
  3. Divide the estimate of total ballots cast by the voting-eligible population of 21.1 million (see below) to arrive at an estimated turnout rate among those eligible to vote of 43.4%.

Recent polls, such as CNN/Gallup, are estimating the California turnout rate to be 58% among voting-age population. The above estimate is for voting-eligible population, the voting-age population turnout rate is significantly lower at 34.9% due to the large number of noncitizens in California. This analysis of absentee voting indicates a much lower turnout rate than assumed in recent polls and suggests that Shwarzenegger's support is overstated since, according to the latest Field Poll, he draws the most support among all candidates from occasional voters, such as independents and cross-over partisan voters.