Turnout for the 2012 Presidential election was 126 M out of about 219 M eligible voters (57.5%; as of 11/7/12; also see, American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate), a lower turnout than 2008. Barack Obama won with 62,049,770 votes (49.25% of turnout; 28.33% of eligible voters) to Mitt Romney’s 58,757,388 (46.63% of turnout; 26.83% of eligible voters). One of the most significant aspects of the election was the record Latino vote, the fact that Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Obama (75%), and 500,000 Latino voters will mature to voting age each year for the foreseeable future.
John Nichols, in the Nation Magazine, notes that this margin of victory was greater than the margin of victory for Kennedy (49.71%), Nixon (43.41%), Carter (50.07%), or Bush (50.73%) and implies a progressive mandate. Basing a mandate on margin of victory makes some sense, but it’s interesting to view these elections in terms of the percent of the voting-age population the candidates attracted (31.35%, 26.41%, 26.81%, 28.04% respectively). Obama was elected by about 26% of the voting-age population, a figure not very different from most other Presidential elections (see table below) and actually less than every president in John Nichols’ list. In any case, being elected by about 1/4 of the voting-age population hardly inspires use of the term “mandate”. Indeed, the fact that every president since 1960 has been elected by less than 38% of the voting-age population, leads one to wonder about how democratic our democracy is.
There are many factors that reduce voter turnout, but lack of a real choice between agendas seems a plausible variable (see, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, for much relevant info). One thesis is that the 1% pay for the elections and the candidates, thus ensuring that whoever wins will continue the most important aspects of status quo. In this light, it is interesting to notice that in his first press conference post election, Obama emphasized not raising taxes on the middle class (but didn’t talk about lowering them), avoided talking about poverty, and did not talk about raising taxes on the wealthy — the debate, instead, is framed in terms of extending or ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy rather than raising taxes on the wealthy. Furthermore, there was no talk of cutting the military budget, one of the largest areas of spending in the budget. Finally, in talking about doing “more” to address climate change, Obama was explicit in rejecting any change that might impact the economy. Even if you are glad that Obama was re-elected, wouldn’t it be nice to have some of that real change the candidates talk about ad-nauseum every four years?
|Voting-age Population||Voter Registration||Voter Turnout||Turnout of voting-age||Contenders||# Votes||% of votes||% of voting-age||Note|
|2012**||240,926,957||219,000,000||126,000,000||52.30%||Obama v Romney||62,049,770||49.25%||25.75%|
|2008*||231,229,580||NA||132,618,580||56.8||Obama v McCain||69,499,428||52.41%||30.06%|
|2004||221,256,931||174,800,000||122,294,978||55.3||Bush v Kerry||62,040,610||50.73%||28.04%|
|2000||205,815,000||156,421,311||105,586,274||51.3||Bush v Gore||50,460,110||47.79%||24.52%||Gore won popular vote with 51,003,926|
|1996||196,511,000||146,211,960||96,456,345||49.1||Clinton v Dole||47,400,125||49.14%||24.12%|
|1992||189,529,000||133,821,178||104,405,155||55.1||Clinton v Bush||44,909,806||43.01%||23.70%|
|1988||182,778,000||126,379,628||91,594,693||50.1||Bush v Dukakis||48,886,597||53.37%||26.75%|
|1984||174,466,000||124,150,614||92,652,680||53.1||Reagan v Mondale||54,455,472||58.77%||31.21%|
|1980||164,597,000||113,043,734||86,515,221||52.6||Reagan v Carter||43,903,230||50.75%||26.67%|
|1976||152,309,190||105,037,986||81,555,789||53.6||Carter v Ford||40,831,881||50.07%||26.81%|
|1972||140,776,000||97,328,541||77,718,554||55.2||Nixon v McGovern||47,168,710||60.69%||33.51%|
|1968||120,328,186||81,658,180||73,211,875||60.8||Nixon v Humphrey||31,783,783||43.41%||26.41%|
|1964||114,090,000||73,715,818||70,644,592||61.9||Johnson v Goldwater||43,127,041||61.05%||37.80%|
|1960||109,159,000||648,330,965||68,838,204||63.1||Kennedy v Nixon||34,220,984||49.71%||31.35%|
|Main sources for table: Voter turnout by year: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html; Presidential results by year: http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/ (xls file: election turnout)|
|** Note: these are approximate numbers because states are still reporting their turnout. But, sources for these estimates are: http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2012G.html and http://online.wsj.com/article/AP8eb715b9e6b64e92ae6c920e6d65c52e.html|
Another source for voter turnout: http://www.nonprofitvote.org/voter-turnout-factors.html
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