October 15, 2020

Many political pundits are predicting a record turnout in the Presidential Election on November 3, including Florida. I don’t disagree with these opinions, based on early statistics of mail voting and early voting in states around the country. Early voting begins in Florida next Monday and I expect to see lines wrapped around early voting sites.

All these opinions of record voting made me wonder, what would be a record turnout in the Sunshine State?

In this exercise, I’m using data from the Florida Department of State’s data site. These turnout figures are based on the percent of registered voters and not either voting age voters (VAP) or eligible voters (VEP). This gives us equivalent comparisons back to 1972.

In Chart 1 and Table 1 below, you will find that by far the largest turnout occurred in 1992, with a turnout of 83%.


If you were wondering what caused this difference, 1992 was the year Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot faced off against each other.

For those who remember this election, it ways a fascinating combination of three completely different candidates for President. And it was the election where Ross Perot gave his memorable statement on NAFTA during a debate: “there will be a giant sucking sound going south.”

In the following election cycle, 1996, the lowest turnout occurred at 67%, a 16 point drop from 1992. This election again had three candidates, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and Ross Perot and it was boring and predictable.

Perot had lost his luster and captured 9.2% of the vote, and Dole with 42.3%. Incumbent Bill Clinton managed 48% and won both Florida and the national vote.

Below is a normal probability distribution of all turnout rates since 1972. This is also called a “bell curve.”


Since this is a normal distribution, we would expect 68% of all turnout rates to be within one standard deviation of the mean (74.3%), which is 3.9%. Simply put, the odds suggest that there is a good chance that the next turnout rate will be between 78% and 70%.

I know what you are thinking, “what good is that prediction?” Well that’s the problem with statistics, it only tells us the probability of an occurrence and not an exact prediction. Otherwise, I would be now living on my 100 foot yacht on the French Riviera.

There is no doubt that this election has created a huge amount of interest for supporters of both candidates in Florida. Early anecdotal evidence suggests right now the momentum favors the Democrats.

But will it beat the Florida record of 83%, nearly 10 points above the mean? That’s a big jump from any other previous year. With that said, there has never been an election quite like this in all of Florida’s history either.

I don’t know about you but I’m putting my money on a record turnout at 85%. Don’t worry if I lose, I never bet more than $10. Be safe…

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

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