Pass the Remote: Fifty Percent of Voters Stayed Home

Even Close Races Fail to Draw Big

WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 14—The big problem in last week's presidential election isn't how close the vote was, but that nobody votes. The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate has issued an analysis showing that 51 percent of eligible voters turned out on Election Day, an increase of just two percentage points over 1996, when 96,277,872 voters went to the polls.

People tended to vote in larger numbers in 15 battleground states where there was plenty of pre-Election Day publicity, but turnout fell in 13 states. Six of them hit new lows: Indiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

More people voted in Minnesota than anywhere else—69 percent. Arizona was at rock bottom, with a showing of just 37 percent.

Regardless of counts and recounts in New Mexico and Florida, the fact remains that half the electorate stayed home. "We basically have a turned off electorate," said Curtis Gans, who runs the committee. He estimated that about 105 million Americans participated in the election.

Presidential election turnout has been drifting downward from 63 percent in 1960, when Kennedy faced Nixon. In 1996, turnout fell below 50 percent for the first time in 60 years.

 
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