Thursday, January 3, 2019

Presidential Election Turnout Chart:1920:2016

An  historical Presidential Election Turnout chart. The data is  from Willem M. van der Wal Elections (R) package. Plot functions for lines: blue = lowess(), red = smooth(), purple = smooth.spline(). Click to enlarge the chart.
The source data for Willem M. van der Wal Elections CRAN package can be found in the documenation here. I have not verified this data. There is a discernible 'wave' in the last 25 Presidential  Elections.  The measures of variance for turnout portray a public interest that waxes and wanes with some predictability.

mean     57.308
median   56.900
mad       4.893
sd        4.363
min      48.900
max      63.800
var      19.037
cov      19.037
fstd.err  0.873

The long scale wave below gives the appearance of a K Wave or Kondratiev wave lasting about 60 years. This fits especially if we discard elections of 1920 and 1924 and so begin the modern economic cycle in 1928. The depression years of the 1930s and WWII era gives way to a long scale rise in Presidential turnout (and middle class affluence) that peaks with the election of JFK  in 1960. This subsides into a type of voter apathy of the late 1970s and 1980s which reaches a trough in 1988. (GHWB election). Clearly, Presidential Election turnout has been on a strong rise since at least 2000 (GWB election).

Perhaps one could posit a  type of "Weimar Era" effect on 20th Century Presidential election participation in America. In between eras of "Authoritarian/Republican" leadership (e.g. Hoover, Nixon, Reagan, Trump), affluent educated middle classes combine with dissatisfied and empowered working classes to lead a charge to elect more "Middle Class/Democratic"  (e.g. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton, Obama) leadership. After some time, growing social affluence causes a disconnect between the lives of the upper middle classes and working classes, leading to political opportunity for more  "Authoritarian/Republican" leadership that produces favorable conditions for the economic elite. These conditions eventually create lower wages, more poverty, economic stagnation and more political potential for another cycle of "Middle Class/Democratic" change.

If we look at the turnout percent data with a tighter scale and a 'super smooth' curve (in gold) , we can see a distinct wave having touched the most recent low in 1988 and now approaching 1960 turnout high for 2016 and probably 2020.  The 2020 election could see turnout like 1940 or 1960 (e.g. > 62%).  Blue and purple horizontal lines are mean and median respectively for these 25 presidential elections. Click to enlarge the chart.

A very bi-modal distribution provides additional evidence that America has had low participation Presidential elections usually closer to 56 percent and high participation Presidential elections usually closer to 61 percent.  We appear to be entering a 'high participation' cycle for 2020.  Click to enlarge the chart.

data from

               winner winnerparty turnoutperc electionyear               runnerup
 1:     WarrenHarding        Rep.        49.2         1920              James Cox
 2:    CalvinCoolidge        Rep.        48.9         1924             John Davis
 3:     HerbertHoover        Rep.        56.9         1928               Al Smith
 4: FranklinRoosevelt        Dem.        56.9         1932         Herbert Hoover
 5: FranklinRoosevelt        Dem.        61.0         1936             Alf Landon
 6: FranklinRoosevelt        Dem.        62.4         1940        Wendell Willkie
 7: FranklinRoosevelt        Dem.        55.9         1944           Thomas Dewey
 8:       HarryTruman        Dem.        52.2         1948           Thomas Dewey
 9:  DwightEisenhower        Rep.        62.3         1952        Adlai Stevenson
10:  DwightEisenhower        Rep.        60.2         1956        Adlai Stevenson
11:       JohnKennedy        Dem.        63.8         1960          Richard Nixon
12:     LyndonJohnson        Dem.        62.8         1964        Barry Goldwater
13:      RichardNixon        Rep.        62.5         1968        Hubert Humphrey
14:      RichardNixon        Rep.        56.2         1972        George McGovern
15:       JimmyCarter        Dem.        54.8         1976            Gerald Ford
16:      RonaldReagan        Rep.        54.2         1980           Jimmy Carter
17:      RonaldReagan        Rep.        55.2         1984         Walter Mondale
18:    GeorgeH.W.Bush        Rep.        52.8         1988        Michael Dukakis
19:       BillClinton        Dem.        58.1         1992      George H. W. Bush
20:       BillClinton        Dem.        51.7         1996               Bob Dole
21:      GeorgeW.Bush        Rep.        54.2         2000                Al Gore
22:      GeorgeW.Bush        Rep.        60.1         2004             John Kerry
23:       BarackObama        Dem.        61.6         2008            John McCain
24:       BarackObama        Dem.        58.6         2012            Mitt Romney
25:       DonaldTrump        Rep.        60.2         2016 Hillary Rodham Clinton
               winner winnerparty turnoutperc electionyear               runnerup

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