Voter Turnout and Why It Matters

Air Date: 10/30/2018
Source:
NBC Learn
Creator:
Kristen Dahlgren
Air/Publish Date:
10/30/2018
Event Date:
10/30/2018
Resource Type:
News Report
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
2018
Clip Length:
00:03:02

NBC News' Kristen Dahlgren looks at some of the factors that impact voter turnout, what it means, and how it may impact U.S. elections.

Voter Turnout and Why It Matters

KRISTEN DAHLGREN, anchor:

Every election relies on voters casting ballots. But how many of the people who could vote, do vote?

Polling data tell us voter turnout—or how many people actually vote in elections—is much lower in the United States than in most other developed democracies.

In the 2016 presidential election, 58% of eligible voters—that’s U.S. citizens who are 18 years or older— went to the polls and voted. But why isn’t the number 100%? 

There are a few big reasons: political engagement, if citizens believe their vote matters, and how easy it is to actually go vote.

How does this play out in elections?

Voter turnout varies depending on the election year and type of election. In recent years, around 60% of eligible citizens have voted during presidential elections, and about 40% have voted during midterm elections.  Turnout is even lower for odd year, primary, and local elections.

Even though the midterm elections are important—they help determine which political party controls Congress, and ultimately which laws get passed—many people don’t see them this way. Voters tend to be more engaged in presidential elections because people see the presidency as a big deal.

States get to make their own laws about voting, like how, when and where citizens vote. Some laws might make it easier to vote—like election-day voter registration or allowing citizens to register to vote online.

But some state laws can make it harder to vote—like requiring government-issued photo identification before voting, which millions of Americans do not have.  If enough people have a hard time voting, then that can lead to low voter turnout.

Some states are considered “battleground states” or “swing states”—and this just means that the party in power swings between republicans and democrats often. Swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida tend to have higher voter turnout—because both sides spend a lot of money and energy trying to get their candidate elected.

But states like California, New York, and Texas don’t usually have close races, so voter turnout tends to be lower. In 2012, 66% of eligible voters turned out to the polls in the nation's 12 most competitive states, but only 57% did in all others.

So voter turnout plays a big role in the outcome of an election because voters ultimately have to be able to go and want to go to the polls.

That’s why politicians and campaign managers use voter turnout data from prior elections to shape their strategy and try to win votes. And why political scientists analyze voter turnout data to help explain election outcomes. 

But no matter how many people turn out to vote, one thing’s for certain; it will continue to have a big impact on the future of our country.

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