Tuesday 4 November 2008

Record turnout ... 64 per cent?

This election has been a wonderful example of how democracies can renew themselves.

writes James Forsyth as The Spectator's CoffeeHouse prepares to blog through election night.

And he's certainly right about the many different ways in which the intensity of interest and participation has broken US records. Forsyth reports on turnout predictions:

The latest predictions I’m hearing for turnout is 64 percent. This would exceed the 63 percent turnout in the 1960 Kennedy v. Nixon race and be the highest since 1908; this in a year where already a record number of people have donated to the candidates and where more people watched the convention speeches than ever before.

This is impressive in US terms - and some states may get up as high as 90 per cent. But it isn't exactly in a different universe than the 61.4% which was seen as a pretty devastating indictment of voter apathy in the UK last time, well below the historic norm if a little up on 2001.

The US and international media are making a lot of the possibility of record turnout.

But we should hold off on the comparisons with South Africa 1994. That was unusual in that there was no official electoral register, but the 19.7 million votes cast accounted for around 90-91% of the estimated 21.7 million eligible voters.

Somebody with more academic expertise might explain why US turnout levels might not be directly comparable - but I would guess that the headline figure might also be artificially boosted by registration being more difficult in the US than several other democracies, although the Democrats seem to have made impressive inroads into that this year.

I would suggest that the level of intensity and the large number actively engaged in following the election closely is more impressive than the breadth of participation across the entire electorate.

And if they weren't interested this year ...

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