November 6th, 2008
01:55 PM ET
10 years ago

Report: '08 turnout same as or only slightly higher than '04

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="North Carolina had the highest increase in voter turnout, according to a report released Thursday."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A new report from American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate concludes that voter turnout in Tuesday’s election was the same in percentage terms as it was four years ago - or at most has risen by less than 1 percent.

Click here to read the entire report.

The report released Thursday estimates that between 126.5 and 128.5 million Americans cast ballots in the presidential election earlier this week. Those figures represent 60.7 percent or, at most, 61.7 percent of those eligible to vote in the country.

“A downturn in the number and percentage of Republican voters going to the polls seemed to be the primary explanation for the lower than predicted turnout,” the report said. Compared to 2004, Republican turnout declined by 1.3 percentage points to 28.7 percent, while Democratic turnout increased by 2.6 points from 28.7 percent in 2004 to 31.3 percent in 2008.

“Many people were fooled (including this student of politics although less so than many others) by this year’s increase in registration (more than 10 million added to the rolls), citizens’ willingness to stand for hours even in inclement weather to vote early, the likely rise in youth and African American voting, and the extensive grassroots organizing network of the Obama campaign into believing that turnout would be substantially higher than in 2004,” Curtis Gans, the center’s director, said in the report. “But we failed to realize that the registration increase was driven by Democratic and independent registration and that the long lines at the polls were mostly populated by Democrats.”

Some experts also note that national turnout trends may mask higher turnout in swing states with more intensive attempts by both campaigns to get their supporters to the polls. Several large states, including California and New York, had no statewide races and virtually no advertising or get-out-the-vote efforts by either presidential campaign.

According to the report, several Southern states - North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, and Mississippi - and the District of Columbia saw the greatest increases in voter turnout.

Overall turnout was highest in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, South Dakota and North Carolina, according to the report.

In 2004, 122 million Americans voted in the general election.

Filed under: 2008 Election
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. KLEE

    Interesting – that means that it wasn't a lot of newbees voting for Barack Obama – which is even more significant --

    November 6, 2008 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  2. Attorney in FL

    LOL LMAO.......and these gullible people keep saying how special Obama is. LOL......He's not special...he just has good timing. After Bush, people would have voted for Mickey Mouse if he had a (D) after his name.

    November 6, 2008 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  3. Wilson, Seattle

    This is surprising but understandable. With evangelicals believing that God never official endorsed John McCain, you can image that turnout in some areas would drop.

    November 6, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  4. SoCal

    I think it's a little bit too early for such conclusions.

    My understanding is that in many states they are still counting provisional ballots, while in some states (including California) some precints are still entirely missing from the available data.

    November 6, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  5. republicans hate america

    well there you have it for those conspiracy theorists that think there was voter fraud. what happened was many million people regretted their choice for Bush and corrected it while many millions still are too stupid to understand and voted for more of the same.

    November 6, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  6. Reality

    Flat wrong! Around 115M people voted in 2004. This time best estimates put it at 133.3M, a 16% increase. Voter turn-out this year is only exceeded by the 1960 election. I have no idea where AU is getting it's numbers, but they are not correct.

    November 6, 2008 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  7. Dave in Atlanta

    Whoever wrote this article has a problem with basic mathematics. The percentage turnout shouldn't be higher. No one expected it to be higher. For it to be higher, people who were registered to vote in 2004 but didn't vote would have to vote in numbers. The significant thing about this election wasn't long registered voters who suddenly started voting again, it was people who never voted who registered to vote specifically so they could vote in this election. So registered voter numbers were higher, and voter numbers were higher, but turnout percentage should pretty much be the same.

    November 6, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  8. Barbara in NC

    I know for a fact that a lot of ex-republicans over 65 voted for Obama in NC. Mixed race, too, not just blacks or whites.

    November 6, 2008 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. Edward

    How about making this front page news....

    People voted against Bush not necessarily for Obama

    November 6, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  10. Sebastian

    Democratic leadership

    It’s time to consolidate the party’s appeal to “real America”. By this, I don’t mean a geographic area (like Ms. Palin or Mr. McCain). Rather I mean Americans that are …

    Ethnically diverse … Americans of latino, white, asian, black descent. Take more of the map in 2012 by expanding the coalition. America isn’t going to be only a “white” country.

    Fiscally conservative … as measured by a balanced budget … NOT simply TAX CUTS as was the reflective refrain from the Republicans during this and every past election.

    Moral & supportive of churchgoing citizens … demonstrate where the Democrats are good and decent and promote right vs wrong … fair vs unfair …. This doesn’t mean mindless charity.

    Promote intelligence. Show tangible improvement in public school student performance and interest in education … math …. Science … the arts …

    Focus on Congressional accountability. In your own way, embrace McCain’s anger, “I will make them famous, you will know their names!” Take this a step further though and create a routine way to convey to each congressional district whether their representative was part of the problem or part of the solution and throughout President Obama’s term, communicate this within their ENTIRE state. Bolster or kill that representative’s chances for Governor, Senator or other statewide advancement.

    Do these things and America will work for years … The Obama Administration will have fixed America. He will be worthy of Mount Rushmore and the $500 bill which will be introduced into circulation.

    November 6, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  11. Attorney in FL

    That's because American citizens have become shallow. It was the "cool" thing to do to become a Democrat. It was "cool" to vote for the young, hip, charismatic guy. Everything in this country is now about aesthetics...its ridiculous. This time, America's shallowness is going to bite us in the arse! America didn't use to be this way 🙁

    BTW, I've been a Democrat since 1999, and this is the first year that I could not bring myself to vote for the ticket. That man is completely unqualified!

    November 6, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  12. Kim

    Atty in FL – Two words: Sour grapes!

    November 6, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |

    obama has noone to thank but ACORN.

    November 6, 2008 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  14. KLEE


    I see you have taken your "bitter pill" again today! –

    November 6, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  15. daddyscott_1999

    Dave and Reality...AU didn't measure the percent of registered voters, but the percentage of "those eligible to vote". That would be registered or otherwise...based on age and citizenship.

    The point of such an analysis is to measure voter participation in this country. It is still very low approx. (61% of eligible voters) compared to other democratic countries, but was expected to be higher in this election. But AU correctly points out that the increase in Democratic-leaning voters was mostly offset by a reduction in Republican-leaning voters (meaning the former added new voters while the latter had old voters that didn't vote this time).

    I can reason that many Republicans stayed home because they felt it was a lost cause. They shouldn't have, though. It would have been very close.

    Non-voters have no rights to complain about the direction of their country. VOTE...WHENEVER YOU GET THE OPPORTUNITY!

    November 6, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  16. Kirsten

    well, that's a disappointment.

    November 6, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  17. J J

    Pelosi will be running the show, San Francisco liberalism for the entire country. Its going to be a rocky time.

    November 6, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  18. LH

    Not everybody who voted for McCain was stupid. Some of us just wanted someone with experience running this country. Now we'll see if Obama can really keep his campaign promises.

    November 6, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  19. rumpusgoopus

    Yeah, increase in Dems, decrease in Repubs. No wonder it came out rather even.

    November 6, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  20. A Really Conservative Realist

    I am certainly bitter over the election.

    Many of you are correct. BO will be our president because of the media. BO's faults were ignored, Biden's faults were ignored, McCain's faults were highlighted and Palin's faults were the only thing about her covered. I'm not suggesting that the R ticket was a good one, only that it was doomed because of media bias, BO's brilliant promise to the lazy, and timing against the backdrop of neocons running our country for 6 of the last 8 years.

    I hope that the R party will return to REAL conservatism. And before you libs trounce on my comments, do us all a favor and read the Constitution. Taxing for welfare is not mentioned. Taxes should be limited so as to only be used for what the Constitution allows for. Again, for those of you who can, our country would be better off if you would meditate on the brilliance on the Constitution instead of the brilliance, or lack thereof, of the Absurdity of False Hope.

    November 6, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  21. Talk's Cheap

    I think there was a time when a man that had only been a state senator with no Washington experience was elected President.
    I think that man was also from Illinois.
    I think his name was Abraham Lincoln.

    November 6, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  22. LH

    But the world is completely different now than it was in Lincoln's time. Foreign policy is more prevelant, the economy is a bigger factor, heck, the country itself is even bigger. While Lincoln was a great leader in that world, the world we live in today doesn't allow for learning the Presidency on the job.

    November 6, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  23. Denver Dem

    No LH, everyone who did vote for McCain, did so on a basis of some stupidity or racism. End of story. the man had zero plans for fixing anything. He only had plans for getting his foot in the door then sitting his million year old butt their till the country collapsed around him. People like you are the ones the younger generation of voters would like to never see at the polls again.

    Adios and goodbye.

    November 6, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  24. Matt

    So much for Barack being able to get out the vote and inspire people to vote one way or the other. And once again you chuckle heads in the news media got it dead wrong again. What happened to the 50 million more people who were going to vote this election? What of all the new voters that got registered? America could barely get 6 million more people to vote this time over last time. I guess there were more fake registrations from ACORN then actual new voters.

    November 6, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  25. LH

    I am the younger generation of voters – I'm only 32 with a law degree. Trust me, I knew exactly who I was voting for. As did my cousin & his family – the cousin who sepnt 18 mths away from his wife & child fighting in Iraq & fully believes that we need to be there. It's being very closed minded to say that if you didn't vote for Obama you're either stupid or racist – what about those who only voted FOR him b/c of his race?

    November 6, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
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