Special Report

States With the Highest (and Lowest) Voter Turnout

Airplane over Seattle, Washington
Source: Thinkstock

16. Washington
> Voter turnout: 65.6%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 34.2%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 53.7%

In Washington, women are more likely to vote than men. In the last four presidential elections, the share of the female electorate going to the polls exceeded that of male eligible voters. In 2008, 63.5% of eligible men voted, compared to 70.0% of their female counterparts. Overall, Washingtonians are more likely to vote than most Americans, with an average turnout rate of 65.6% in presidential elections compared to 62.2% of Americans. Voter participation peaked in Washington in 2004, when 67.6% of eligible voters made it to the polls. Though Bush was elected to a second term that year, the majority of Washington voters supported Democratic candidate John Kerry.

Annapolis, Maryland
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17. Maryland
> Voter turnout: 65.2%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 38.8%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 47.5%

Educational attainment is as primary determinant of voter turnout. In Maryland, the 38.2% collegiate attainment rate is the third highest in the U.S. Not surprisingly, Maryland’s 65.2% average voter turnout rate over the last four presidential elections was higher than the 62.2% national voter turnout rate. Turnout in the state peaked in 2008, when Obama won Maryland by a 25.2 percentage point margin.

Maryland is typically a Democratic stronghold, and a Democratic candidate has won the state in each of the last four presidential elections. In the most recent gubernatorial election, however, low voter turnout among state Democrats resulted in a surprising victory for Republican candidate Larry Hogan.

Lynchburg, Virginia, USA Skyline
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18. Virginia
> Voter turnout: 65.0%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 37.0%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 47.4%

Virginia is by many measures a swing state. In 2012, 51.2% of state voters preferred Obama, the president’s third-smallest margin of victory that year. In more politically neutral states, potential voters may be more likely to go to the polls because they feel they have more of a say.

Another factor potentially driving up Virginia’s voter turnout rate is the state’s relatively low incidence of poverty. Very low income individuals are less likely to have jobs that allow them the flexibility to take time off to cast a ballot. Just 11.8% of Virginia’s residents live below the poverty line, compared to 15.5% of the U.S. population.

Montpelier, Vermont
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19. Vermont
> Voter turnout: 64.9%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 36.9%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 52.7%

Over the past four presidential elections, Vermont’s voter turnout, at 65%, was slightly higher than the national average turnout. Political systems vary considerably across U.S. regions. As in a number of other New England states, many Vermonters participate in Town Meeting Day each year, which is a state holiday in Vermont. Voters gather and help make decisions for their town or locality. A majority of voters in Vermont supported the Democratic candidate in each of the past four presidential elections.

Juneau, Alaska
Source: Thinkstock

20. Alaska
> Voter turnout: 64.6%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Republican
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 29.7%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 61.4%

Wealth is a strong determinant of voter turnout, and the median household income in Alaska of $71,583 a year is the third highest in the country. Not surprisingly, Alaska’s 64.6% average voter turnout rate is higher than the 62.2% national turnout rate overall.

Voter turnout dropped significantly in the most recent presidential election, when just 58.4% of eligible Alaskans voted — the lowest in the last four elections. Turnout amongst younger voters dropped even more, as 32.5% of eligible 18 to 24 year olds voted, more than 20 percentage points lower than the state’s youth turnout rate two elections ago. That decline in turnout may have benefitted Democrats, as Romney won the state by the smallest margin in at least the last four Alaska elections.