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New Figures Show Reversal in 20-Year Decline : Presidential Vote Turnout Rises Slightly

January 05, 1985|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After two decades of declining turnout, the percentage of Americans who went to the polls to elect the President increased slightly in 1984, new figures from the states showed Friday.

The Federal Election Commission, which gathered the final certified vote counts from every state, said 92,651,042 persons cast votes for President, or 53.27% of the voting-age population, estimated by the Census Bureau at 173,936,000.

That compares to a 1980 turnout of 52.6%.

President Reagan received 54,451,521 votes, or 58.77%; his Democratic rival, Walter F. Mondale, 37,565,334, or 40.54%, and 634,187, or 0.69%, were scattered among 15 minor party or write-in candidates, the FEC said.

The percentage of Americans who go to the polls had fallen from its historic high of 62.8%, in the tightly contested 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, to 55.2% in 1972, 53.5% in 1976 and 52.6% in 1980--giving the United States one of the lowest voter turnouts of any democratic country.

Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, said: "You've got to be happy when it's going up after 20 years of decline."

But he said he had expected a bigger turnout, given the sharp differences between Reagan and Mondale and the extensive efforts both parties made to register new voters.

Wrong Figures

The FEC, in a news release, had said the turnout was "slightly lower than in 1980," when 86,495,678 votes were cast out of what the commission said was an estimated voting-age population of 160,316,000. This would have amounted to a 53.95% turnout.

But other experts said the FEC mistakenly used the wrong population figure for 1980.

The FEC attributed the figure to the Census Bureau, but the bureau has revised its estimate of the 1980 voting-age population to 164,473,000, according to Martin O'Connell, the official in charge of those estimates. That made the 1980 turnout 52.6%.

Reagan received more popular and electoral votes than any presidential candidate in U.S. history, but his margin trailed Lyndon B. Johnson's victory with 61% of the vote in 1964 and 60% landslides by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, Nixon in 1972 and Warren G. Harding in 1920.

Reagan received 16,886,187 more votes than Mondale, according to the figures gathered by the FEC. His victory will become official on Jan. 7, at a ceremonial joint session of Congress, when Vice President George Bush will open the ballots cast by the 538 members of the Electoral College on Dec. 17. Mondale captured only 13 electoral votes.

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