What Affects Voter Turnout Rates

What Affects Voter Turnout Rates?

Turnout varies greatly by state. In the 2020 presidential election, 80% of eligible voters in Minnesota cast ballots, whereas only 55% of eligible Oklahoman voters did so. Many different factors influence voter turnout levels. 

Electoral Competitiveness

One of the most important factors is the competitiveness of the presidential election in each state. 69% of voters in the ten most competitive states cast a ballot in 2020, compared to the national average of 66%.

Election Type

Low turnout is most pronounced in primary elections, off-year elections for state legislators, and local elections. For example, a 2013 study of 340 mayoral elections in 144 U.S. cities from 1996-2012 found that voter turnout in those cities averaged at 25.8%. In many cities, mayors have been elected with single-digit turnout.  For example, turnout in Dallas' 1999 mayoral election was a mere 5%.

Run-off elections for all offices also tend to have lower turnout than first round elections, especially if the first round election takes place on the same day as several other elections. For example, of the 248 primary runoff elections between 1994 and 2020, all but eight resulted in a decrease in turnout between the initial primary and the runoff. The average decline in turnout was 38%. Additionally, the longer the wait between the initial primary and the runoff, the larger the decrease in voter turnout.

Voting Laws

Voter registration laws, voter identification laws, early voting, and polling place accessibility can also affect voter turnout.

Demographics

In the aggregate, Americans who vote tend to be older, wealthier, more educated, and whiter than non-voters. More on these demographic differences: 

 

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