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Turnout Hits 44-Year Low Despite Gains in Voters

November 06, 1986|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Voter turnout for this year's midterm elections was the lowest in 44 years, partly because of uncontested races in some populous states and a public backlash against campaign mudslinging, experts said Wednesday.

Curtis Gans, head of the independent Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, said preliminary figures indicated that only 37.3% of the voting-age population--people 18 or older--cast ballots in Tuesday's elections.

That was less than the 37.7% who voted in 1978, and unparalleled since 1942, when slightly more than 30% of voting-age Americans cast ballots during the early period of World War II.

'Non-Competitive Races'

"There were two major reasons for the decline," Gans said. "There would have been a decline in any case because there were non-competitive races in some of the major population states of the East."

In addition, he said, "people were voting no on this campaign. . . . I think it was a reaction to the nasty campaigning, to not being invited in to participate, to almost having an election and nobody knowing about it."

Gans had predicted the decline a week ago, despite a 1.8% increase in voter registration in the 29 states from which data was available.

"Registration has become an increasingly unreliable tool to determine turnout," he said. "For the past two decades, voter registration has held relatively constant while voter turnout went down," he said.

112 Million Non-Voters

Early totals indicate that 66,240,000 Americans voted Tuesday, meaning that more than 112 million people who had reached voting age did not vote.

In 1982, the last off-year election, 41.1% of the eligible voters went to the polls.

"Many more states went down than went up," Gans said.

The biggest drop appeared to be in Alaska, where 40% turned out, down 22.9 percentage points from 1982. Not all of the votes had been counted in that state.

The state with the highest turnout was South Dakota, where 57.6% voted, a 1.2 percentage point increase over 1982. The worst turnout was in Kentucky, where 24.7% went to the polls.

Traditionally, the turnout drops in non-presidential election years.

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