Turnout, Burnout

10 נובמבר, 2016 ב- 19:35 | פורסם בEnglish, פוליטיקה | כתיבת תגובה

Since Tuesday's elections, I've been hearing a lot about the alleged irresponsibility of the American voter, not turning out for the elections. At the same time, there has been the usual fuss over the electoral college system and how some states are meaningless to bother going out to vote.

I have yet to see a piece trying to tie the two together (please correct me if I'm wrong).

My claim is simple: citing the nationwide 56.5% figure as a strong indicator for voter apathy is somewhat misleading. If a Californian feels they don't see the point in voting (and registering beforehand), it's different than a Pennsylvania voter (in this elections cycle at least, but pretty much usually). It's unfair, but understandable, if there's a (say) 15 point difference in their turnout rates.

Let's look at the numbers then, shall we? On the x axis, we'll place the ultimate victory margin (collected Thursday from Wikipedia) as a proxy for how inclined an average voter was to believe that his vote would be crucial. It's not a perfect proxy of course, as there were some state-level surprises. Maybe poll margins prior to registration deadlines would have been a better one. The y axis will denote the voting turnout (collected from electproject.org).

Before the chart, observational data: of the 11 states with highest voter turnout rate, 10 ended up with a margin under 5%. Of the 10 states with margin under 4%, only one had a turnout of less than 60%. Now you can look at the chart, including a simple linear trend line.


Forgive my dataviz-unsavviness. I wish I knew how to add state labels to each point on gsheets.

As you can see, the results are pretty straightforward. With a not-bad correlation of 0.21, it seems voters chose to turn out based on how close they anticipated the race to be in their state. I didn't leave out the outliers but they're not shown in this chart (DC is always ridiculous, this time with an 86% victory margin. Hawaii significantly undervoted with a 34% turnout, way under the next, California at 45.5%). It was cool to see Utah as a special case here with its 3-way race – a 19% D-R margin brought significantly less people to the polls than Montana or Washington state who ended up with about the same margin.

All in all, the voters who mattered in this Presidential election (tough phrasing but that's the way it is) came in at about 65%, much higher than the national average.

It's worth noting that the numbers, even for the swing states, are still low compared to most of the democratic world. But I'll also note that the US has other factors going for it, such as the no-day-off thing, or the huge amount of expats allowed to vote, which is a unique characteristic. According to electproject, these compose roughly 2% of the eligible electorate.

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