Primary turnout won't be a record, report predicts

This election's primaries likely won't break a record set in 1972, and may not translate into high participation in the general election.


Alex Koppelman
May 20, 2008 2:57AM (UTC)

Enthusiasm about and interest in this year's primaries has been running high, and turnout has been correspondingly good. But, according to a report from American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate, total turnout likely won't reach the record set in 1972's primaries.

A release accompanying the report says, "In states that held nominating primaries for both parties, 23 of 34 states recorded records, but the overall turnout of 30.2 percent of the eligible electorate fell short of the record 30.9 percent who voted in 1972 ... Democratic presidential primary records were set in 23 states, but the overall turnout of 19.3 percent was smaller than the 21 percent who turned out in 1972."

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Curtis Gans, CSAE's director, says that the primary turnout alone doesn't necessarily predict turnout for the general election. From the release:

"High primary turnout does not necessarily augur high general election turnout," Gans writes. "In 1972, the year of the highest presidential primary turnout, turnout in the general election experienced the largest decline of any election since World War II when turnout declined ... because a large percentage of Americans were outside the country fighting that war.

"Rather it is very likely that this fall's election will have high turnout because of the issues which will be in play and the economic condition of the nation," Gans added. "But whether it will equal or exceed the 2004 general election turnout when President Bush served as a lightning rod and propelled 60.9 percent of the eligible electorate to the polls (the highest turnout since 61.9 percent voted in 1968) is up in the air at this time."


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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