Special Report

States With the Highest (and Lowest) Voter Turnout

Kentucky Farm
Source: Thinkstock

36. Kentucky
> Voter turnout: 61.1%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Republican
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 23.3%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 59.0%

Like in most states, younger Kentuckians are less likely to vote than the voting-age population as a whole. While total eligible voter participation ranged from 56.4% to 65.0% in the last four presidential elections, participation was considerably lower among 18-24 year olds. Only 34.1% to 55.8% of the age group made it to the polls.

Kentucky is a traditionally red state, and a Republican candidate has won there in each of the past four presidential elections. The election in 2000, when Bush won by a 15.1 percentage point margin. While this was a commanding victory, it was actually the closest in the state’s recent history.

Downtown Boise Idaho just after sundown with Capital building
Source: Thinkstock

37. Idaho
> Voter turnout: 61.1%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Republican
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 26.0%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 59.9%

Idaho’s voter turnout rate over the past four presidential elections has been, on average, lower than that of the nation. In the 2012 presidential elections, however, a higher share of the state electorate actually went to the polls, at 63.9% of eligible Idaho residents compared to 61.8% of eligible Americans.

Those with an advanced education are more likely to participate in the democratic process. In 2012, more than 77% of Americans with a college degree voted. This may partially explain the state’s below average voter turnout. In Idaho, just 25% of the adult population has a college degree, more than 5 percentage points below the national share.

San Francisco downtown general view, California
Source: Thinkstock

38. California
> Voter turnout: 60.3%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Democrat
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 32.3%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 54.3%

An average of just over 60% of eligible California voters cast a ballot in the past four presidential elections, lower than the turnout rate in most states. Americans who believe their vote matters are far more likely to participate in elections than others. This explains the higher turnout rates during highly competitive political contests, and it could partially account for the relatively low turnout rate in California.

Despite having the most electoral votes of any state, Californians, along with New Yorkers and Floridians, actually have one of the weakest votes of any state when adjusting the number of electoral votes to the state’s population. Also, California almost always votes Democrat. Since the general election outcome in the state could be a forgone conclusion for many Californians, the motivation to vote could be lower as a result.


39. Utah
> Voter turnout: 59.6%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Republican
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 31.8%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 54.9%

Utah is one of only 11 states where the average voter turnout rate was below 60%. Voter participation in the state, which is right-leaning, peaked in 2004. That year, 67.8% of the electorate made it to the polls, the majority of whom voted Republican. As has been the case across the country, Utah residents with a bachelor’s degree vote at a higher rate than residents with lower educational attainment. In the 2012 general election, 73.5% of eligible Utah voters with at least a bachelor’s degree made it to the polls, versus the statewide turnout rate of 57.0%.

Among eligible voters in Utah who did not vote, 34.7% cited a work or school schedule conflict as their reason for not voting in the most recent election year.

Indianapolis, Indiana
Source: Thinkstock

40. Indiana
> Voter turnout: 59.5%
> 2012 winning candidate’s party: Republican
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 24.9%
> Pct. workers paid hourly: 57.2%

Indiana’s voting-age population is slightly less likely to vote than eligible Americans nationwide. While an average of only 59.5% of the electorate made it to the polls in Indiana, a higher share of college educated state residents voted than was typical across the nation. In 2012, 80.6% of eligible Indiana voters with a college degree voted compared to 77.1% of voters across the country with similar educational attainment.

Indiana voters tend to prefer conservative candidates. Both in 2000 and in 2004, more than half of all ballots cast in the state went to Bush. The state shifted to the left in 2008 as Obama won by a single percentage point. However, four years later Obama lost to Romney by more than 10 percentage points during the 2012 general election.

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