Special Report

States With the Highest (and Lowest) Voter Turnout

St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Source: Thinkstock

1. Minnesota
> Voter turnout: 74.5%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 34.7%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 55.3%

Nearly three-quarters of eligible Minnesota residents cast a ballot on average over the past four general election cycles, the highest voter turnout rate of any state in the nation. By contrast, 62% of eligible Americans voted in presidential elections over that period. Minnesota is one of 13 states with a caucus system. Not only are delegate votes usually determined by the outcome, but also party meetings frequently attract highly influential party members. The fanfare generated by the caucuses each election cycle may contribute to the state’s high voter turnout.

One potential reason for the state’s high voter turnout is its decision to allow same-day voter registration. This policy, maintained by Minnesota and 14 other states, has been shown to boost turnout by 7% to 14%. Many states adopted this practice only after the 2012 election — the North Star State has maintained same-day registration since 1974.

Milwaukee Houses, Wisconsin
Source: Thinkstock

2. Wisconsin
> Voter turnout: 73.0%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 28.4%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 60.3%

For the past quarter of a century, Wisconsin voters favored a Democrat during presidential elections. Wisconsin was one of only a handful of states to prefer Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election over George H.W. Bush. States that lean heavily in favor of one party often have lower turnout as a result of low competition. Wisconsin, however, has one of the best participation records in the country. In each of the last four presidential elections, more than 70% of Wisconsin’s eligible voters went to the polls — the only state to exceed 70% voter turnout in all four cycles.

Portland, Maine 2
Source: Thinkstock

3. Maine
> Voter turnout: 70.8%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 30.1%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 55.2%

In both Maine and the nation as a whole, college graduates are more likely to vote. However, despite the fact that Maine’s educational attainment rate is slightly below average, it still boasts one of the highest voter participation rates in the country. Voter turnout in Maine has been among the highest in the nation in the four most recent presidential elections. Political engagement peaked in Maine in 2004, when 73.1% of eligible voters came to the polls. Historically, Maine is a blue state, opting for the Democratic presidential candidate by at least 5 percentage points in each of the last four presidential elections.

Concord, New Hampshire
Source: Thinkstock

4. New Hampshire
> Voter turnout: 69.8%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 35.7%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 54.4%

In the last four presidential elections, an average of 69.8% of eligible voters in New Hampshire cast a ballot. Historically, New Hampshire has been a swing state, and voter turnout is arguably more decisive in the state’s elective outcome than in the rest of the country. In the last four presidential elections, no candidate has won New Hampshire by a margin larger than 10 percentage points.

Iowa farmland, corn
Source: Thinkstock

5. Iowa
> Voter turnout: 69.6%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 26.8%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 56.8%

The Iowa caucuses are the first event in the election process for the President of the United States, setting the tone for the election season. The national attention given to the outcomes likely helps stimulate participation among Iowa’s potential voters. During the most recent caucus held February 1, observers reported crowded venues, extremely long lines, and insufficient numbers of ballots, indicating stronger than average participation. Over the past four general elections, an average of nearly 70% of eligible voters cast their ballot. The best turnout was in 2004, when 71.3% of the electorate cast a ballot. In three of the past four elections — 2000, 2008, and 2012 — a larger share of voters supported the Democratic presidential candidate than the Republican one.

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