Voter turnout in the United States does not compare favorably to many nations even when the country’s top office is at stake.
According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based organization:
• About 56 percent of U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. That was higher than in 2012 but less than a record year in 2008.
• The U.S. turnout ranked 26th out of 32 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Estimates were not available for three countries.
• Belgium (87.2 percent) topped the voter turnout list, while Sweden, Denmark, Australia and South Korea rounded out the top five. Switzerland (less than 39 percent) ranked last. Belgium is one of six nations in the OEDC with some form of compulsory voting rules.
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the city of Eau Claire averaged in turnout about 67 percent over the last two presidential elections. About 22 percent turned out statewide in this year’s spring election.
Much is on the line for this Tuesday’s primary, as voters will decide nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, and seats in the state Legislature and Congress. Some counties have primaries for sheriff and other positions.
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“General elections have much higher turnout than primaries,” said Mort Sipress, associate professor emeritus for the Political Science Department at UW-Eau Claire. “The U.S. is somewhat unique by providing primaries for picking political party candidates to run in general elections.”
Sipress added that the sheer number of elections in America has an impact.
“We even elect people to predominantly administrative positions with no public policy dimension,” he said. “For example, some places still elect coroners. If in any given year we elect people to more than a dozen different offices, is it realistic to expect voters to be knowledgeable about dozens of candidates?
“The media contributes to this by significantly covering relatively few races.”
Voters also pay “much more attention to executive positions than to legislative or judicial positions,” Sipress said. “Turnout declines as you go from, say, mayor to city council to local judge.”
Nevertheless, turnout could be higher than usual in Wisconsin. Eight Democrats are running to see who will attempt to unseat Gov. Scott Walker in the Nov. 6 general election. Locally, the Assembly District 91 contest is particularly heated, with four Democratic candidates bidding for the nomination.
With some narrow winning margins expected in select races, voting blocs such as students could have more influence than usual.
“It is possible that the winner of the Democratic primary for governor will only earn 20 or 25 percent of the vote,” said Barry Burden, UW-Madison political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center, in an Isthmus magazine story. “With such a slim margin of victory possible, students’ votes could be important in selecting the winner.
“Many students are engaged with the Democratic nomination for governor, so turnout could be up in student wards.”
Hopefully, it’s up across all demographics. Polls in Eau Claire County are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.