States With the Highest (and Lowest) Voter Turnout

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Springfield, Illinois State Capitol Building
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31. Illinois
> Voter turnout: 63.0%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 32.9%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 51.5%

Illinois’ voter participation rate was in line with that of the nation in each of the last two midterm elections and slightly below the national turnout in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. This might be surprising to some, given President Obama’s political history in the state. He served in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 through 2004, and then in the U.S. Congress as an Illinois senator from 2004 until his presidency.

It may actually be the president’s home field advantage — as well as the state’s Democratic leaning — that kept voter turnout so low in Illinois. Nearly 22% of those who did not vote in 2012 said they did not think their vote would matter, compared to 16.2% of U.S. non-voters who said the same.

Miami city tropical view, Florida
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32. Florida
> Voter turnout: 62.2%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 28.4%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 46.3%

The entire outcome of the presidential election in 2000 came down to Florida, where an incredibly close vote merited a recount that dragged on for weeks. In that year, voter turnout was 59.6%, the lowest of the last four presidential elections. Bush was ultimately declared winner by a Supreme Court decision, securing Florida’s 25 electoral votes as well as the presidency.

Florida is a swing state, and the candidate to win it has gone on to win the general election in the last four elections. In 2004, Bush won by 5 percentage points, the most commanding victory compared to the general elections in 2000, 2008 and 2012. On average, voter turnout in the state is similar to the national voter turnout rate.

Montgomery, Alabama State Capital under a blustery sky 1.
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33. Alabama
> Voter turnout: 62.0%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Republican
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 24.2%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 58.7%

A Democratic presidential candidate has not won Alabama since Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in 1976. In each of the last four presidential elections, the Republican candidate won the state by at least 14.9 percentage points. A consistently conservative state, it is perhaps no surprise that one of the most common reasons cited for not voting was that people felt their vote would not make a difference. Average voter turnout in the state in the last four presidential elections was 62.0%, a marginally smaller share than the 62.2% voter turnout across the country.

Higher educational attainment rates typically correlate with higher rates of voter engagement. Just as voter turnout is lower in Alabama than it is across the nation, so is educational attainment. Only 23.5% of adults in Alabama have at least a bachelor’s degree compared to the 30.1% national college attainment rate.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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34. Pennsylvania
> Voter turnout: 61.6%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 29.7%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 57.8%

Higher educational attainment typically leads to increased participation in the the democratic process. In Pennsylvania, 29.0% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, roughly in line with the 30.1% of adults nationwide with similar educational attainment. Voter turnout in the state is also similar to national voter turnout. In the past four presidential elections, an average of 61.6% of eligible Pennsylvanians went to the polls compared to 62.2% of the country-wide electorate. Like in most of the country, younger and poorer voters in Pennsylvania are less likely to vote than the state population overall.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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35. New Mexico
> Voter turnout: 61.1%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 26.5%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 59.5%

New Mexico’s average voter turnout rate over the last four presidential elections was lower than in the majority of states. Participation bottomed out in the 2000 election when less than 55% of the state electorate went to the polls compared to just under 60% of the U.S. electorate. In the last three cycles, the state’s turnout rate has been within a percentage point of the national voter turnout rate. New Mexico’s turnout may be bolstered by its status as a swing state. Though the largest share of voters preferred Gore, the Democratic candidate, in 2000, the state went to Bush, the Republican candidate, four years later.

New Mexico voters appear to recognize their impact on the election. Only 5.7% of those who did not vote in the state in 2012 said they abstained because they did not think their vote would make a difference, compared to a national share of 16.2%.