Susan Russo

The Pew Research Center has over the past few years collected data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the United States Elections Project, and other national and international election authorities to estimate voter turnout in thirty-five nations in each of their last national elections. The countries studied are the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In six of these countries (Australia, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Turkey), voting is compulsory, but the laws aren’t always strictly enforced and the penalty for not voting may be modest. For example, in Australia the penalty for not voting is the equivalent of US $20, which is waived if you can prove that you had no way to get to the polls or legally submit a ballot.

Of the thirty-five nations included above, the United States is thirtieth in this list (based upon the most recent national election and excluding the U.S. mid-term elections), with 53.6% of the estimated 241 million “voting-age” population voting in the 2012 Presidential election. However, we do rank above Switzerland, where the estimated turnout for the last national election was less than 39% (even though one section (“canton”) in Switzerland does have a compulsory voting law).

The highest voting percentages were in Belgium (87.2%), Turkey (84.3%), and Sweden (82.6%). Of course there can be serious political divisions, loss of confidence, and economic and social factors (as now in the United States) in every country, which can alter the turnout over the years. For instance, in 1992 Slovenia’s voting turnout was 85%, but was 54% in 2015. Japan, as well, had a high voter turnout (75%) in 1990, but fell to 52% in 2014. In addition, the voting-age population used to calculate these statistics includes people who are not eligible to vote (e.g. non-citizens) and the percentage of the population that is ineligible to vote may vary among the OECD countries.

The statisticians at Pew found that in the US, in 1996, when President Bill Clinton ran for his second term, the voting percentage was 48%, and in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected for his first term, the percentage rose to 57%.

A US Census Current Population Survey calculated statistics from the 2012 election, which report that the percentages of voter turn-out by region were Northeast 58%, Midwest 62.7%, South 55.7%, and West 53%.


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