Analyst predicts drop in overall voter participation

Turnout in Tuesday’s presidential election will probably fall below the levels of 2008 and 2004 based on voter registration trends, according to a longtime analyst of American voting behavior.

Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, estimated that 56 percent to 58 percent of eligible citizens will vote this year, down from 62.3 percent in 2008 and 60.6 percent in 2004.

Gans, in a study done in conjunction with the Bipartisan Policy Center, analyzed voter registration data this year and compared them with prior presidential cycles. The study found the percentage of citizens who are registered to vote “likely slipped moderately” from the prior two cycles.


Based on Gans’s projections, somewhere between 123 million and 127 million ballots will be cast when the polls close on Tuesday. That would be down from 131 million in 2008 but more than the 122 million in 2004, when there were 17 million fewer persons eligible to vote. Gans also said that so-called convenience laws that make it easier to vote — such as same-day registration and early in-person voting — have had a neutral overall effect on participation.

Get This Week in Politics in your inbox:
A weekly recap of the top political stories from The Globe, sent right to your email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The modern high percentage turnout in a presidential election, based on Gans’s data, was 1960 with 67 percent, and the low was 1996, at 51.4 percent. Gans bases his data on those who are over the age of 18 minus those of voting age who are not US citizens. Gans attributed the erosion in the level of civic engagement generally to a decline in the influence of newspapers, political parties, and labor unions.

The study also found that, in the states where voters may register by party, Democratic registration is down from four years ago, Republican registration is basically flat, and all others are up slightly

The campaign of President Obama, which has built a large ground organization, has focused heavily on turning out early voters. By most accounts, that has given Democrats a lead over Republicans heading into Election Day but a significant GOP counter-effort has reduced the margin significantly from four years ago.

In New Hampshire, a battleground state that has been the focus of intense organizing by partisans and late visits by both candidates, Secretary of State William Gardner expects a high turnout, perhaps a record of a few thousand more than the 719,000 Granite Staters who cast ballots four years ago.


Two factors that could complicate matters for New Hampshire voters casting ballots Tuesday are the implementation for the first time of a new photo identification requirement in the state and an expected spike in the number of same-day registrations.

Gardner anticipates an increase in same-day registrations, which the state implemented in 1996, because voting officials last year purged inactive voters, who can regain the right to vote by registering anew.

Gardner expects about 100,000 voters will register before casting ballots on Election Day, more than the previous record of about 94,000 in 2004, the last presidential election following a purge. About a quarter to a third of the new registrants will be voters who have moved and will be required to reregister, he said. Any voters lacking a photo ID will be asked to sign an affidavit before voting, Gardner said.

Brian C. Mooney can be reached at bmooney@globe.com.