2008 Unofficial Voter Turnout
Last updated: March 12, 2009
Note that the denominator now reflects July 1, 2008 voting-age population estimates. The last update reflects an upward revision of New York's numbers.
All states and DC have now reported official or certified results. There are likely a small number of "scattering" write-in ballots for unofficial candidates that may be added in the next month when more states release final canvass reports. I have designated such states as Final in table below, others where final reports are available and I believe no further write-in numbers will be released are designated as Certified. There are still a few minor issues outstanding that could move the vote for president upwards, such as the potential counting of some rejected absentee ballots in Minnesota and an approximately 1,658 vote error in Broadwater, MT discovered by Corey Berger, who has been collecting county level results.
The national turnout rate for those eligible to vote is 61.7% or 131.3 million ballots cast for president. This number does not include an approximate 1.3 million under and over votes, for an estimated 132.6 million total ballots cast.
The 2008 turnout rate represents an increase of 1.6 percentage points over the 60.1% turnout rate of 2004, but falls short of the 1968 turnout rate of 62.5%. Next year when the Census Bureau releases its Current Population Survey, Voting and Registration Supplement it will be possible to obtain a good estimate of turnout rates among 18-20 year olds so that an apples-to-apples comparison can be made for turnout rates among eligible voters age 21 and older. There are other changes to elections in the past 40 years, too, that further make these numbers non-comparable, such as the 500,000 plus mail-in ballots that will likely be rejected this election for failure to follow procedures, such as a lack of required signature or proper seal of an envelope. A much smaller number would have been rejected in 1968, when only approximately 2% of ballots were cast by mail.
My initial estimate of 133.3 million ballots cast proved to be too high due to an over-estimation of absentee ballots outstanding in states that have in the past reported a smaller proportion of their mail-in ballots on election night. It may have been that more mail-in ballots were sent in earlier during the absentee voting period or that states and localities have improved the timeliness of their absentee ballot processing. Two high volume mail-in states, Oregon (all mail) and Washington (all mail except King and Pierce counties), apparently experienced turnout declines from 2004, which masked the error.
Oregon and Washington appeared to suffer from a turnout decline - or failed to keep pace with the national turnout increase - similar to other states that lost their battleground status from 2004, further including Maine, West Virginia and Wisconsin (South Dakota's decline may be a consequence of the hot 2004 Senate race between Daschle and Thune which drew more votes than president in some counties). The largest turnout rate increases from 2004 were experienced in states that shifted onto the battleground, such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. Other non-battleground Southern states such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina (and the District of Columbia) experienced turnout increases, perhaps a consequence of high turnout among African-Americans excited to vote for president-elect Obama. Turnout declines in deep red states such as Alaska and Utah may reflect less enthusiasm among Republicans for Sen. McCain.
Please see my FAQ for more information on the construction of the voting-eligible population (VEP) statistics. Note the state VEP numbers do not sum to the national number because I add in overseas citizens to the national number but not the state numbers.
A Tip of the Hat to: The Associated Press Elections Unit, which supplies some outstanding ballot statistics used to estimate 2008 vote for president, and Corey Berger, who has graciously shared a compilation of county level statistics in states that have not reported recent election results.
* Montana's number reflects a known 1,658 under-reporting error in Broadwater County for the vote for president. The state will not amend its certified results. Pennsylvania's number reflects 17,555 scattering write-in votes that are not reported on the Department of State's website.
|Dr. Michael McDonald
Department of Public and International Affairs
George Mason University
4400 University Drive 3F4
Fairfax, VA 22030-4444