20 January 2015

In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s historic victory in the 2008 presidential election, two questions have frequently arisen. How did he manage to turn nine or ten “red states” into “blue states,” (as of this writing, Missouri is still too close to call), and why was the voter turnout “flat,” that is, not much greater than the voter turnout in the 2004 presidential election? As it happens, the two questions are somewhat related. This paper addresses them both.

Voter turnout is equal to total ballots cast divided by total registered voters, expressed as a percentage. Those who are wondering about the 2008 voter turnout are actually inquiring about total ballots cast, or more precisely, those with a choice for president -- the total popular vote.

Naturally, the historic trend is that more ballots are cast in each presidential election than in the preceding one, primarily because of steady growth in population. But this does not always hold true. Listed below are the popular vote totals for every presidential election since the advent of women’s suffrage, with the exception of the 2008 election for which the results are still, as of this writing, incomplete and unofficial. The incremental increases or decreases in the total popular vote are expressed both in raw numbers and as percentages.

Read the full article as a PDF.