Is Election Turnout Declining in Florida?

October 9, 2020

I’m sure many of you have heard or read that election turnout has declined in the United State over the past several decades. Until recently, this has been the conclusion of even political experts and it stems from how statisticians and political scientists were calculating turnout.

The primary statistic that experts have used to calculate turnout is based the voting-age population (called VAP). Today, that includes any person 18 and older regardless if the are eligible to vote.

The problem with this statistic is that it includes non-citizens and felons which, of course, cannot legally vote. Prior to 1970, this difference was not particularly significant, but in the last 35 years, the number of ineligible felons and non-citizens has significantly increased.

Consequently, using the VAP statistic is inadvertently increasing the number of eligible voters, which distorts the turnout percentages.

Increasingly, political scientists have adopted a new metric, which is called Voter-Eligible Population (VEP).

With this change, they have eliminated people who cannot legally vote, such as felons and non-citizens. Consequently, the number of eligible voters has declined and the percent of voter participation has increased accordingly.

To demonstrate how this change has altered reporting statistics, I have created a chart of both VEP and VAP turnout figures in Florida since 1980, shown in Chart 1 below.

Chart 1

The red line is the older method (VAP) and the blue line represents the preferred method (VEP). Notice that the line differences increases over time, due to the elimination of prohibited voters. In Table 1 below, I show the Florida turnout percentages using the turnout of both VEP and VAP calculations since 1980.

Table 1

As you can see, the VAP percentages are considerably lower than the VEP percentages. The fourth column is the percent difference between the two methods and it shows that as time moves on, the percent differences increase due to the increasing number of felons and immigrants.

On average, the difference between VAP and VEP data over this 32 year period, is 6.3%. In other words, the VEP calculations show that voting participation actually increased over this period.

Finally, when the state reports turnout figures they use the percent of registered voters. This statistic overestimates the turnout rate because it only counts voters who have registered to vote rather than those who are eligible to vote and every state has their own registration requirements.

And what about November 3rd? I would be shocked if Florida and the nation have anything less than record turnouts no matter how it is calculated. The intensity, and not enthusiasm, will drive people to the polls. Anger motivates more than love…Do as my mother always said: voter early and often…

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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