The 1998 General Election Turnout
The number of voters who cast ballots in the 1998 General Election declined from 76,475,130 in 1994 to 73,731,478. This decrease of 2,747,483 represents an absolute drop of 3.59%, and a relative fall of between 7 and 10%.
There are two reasons that the decline can only be estimated. First, 7 or 14% of the states with a proportional percentage of the votes cast do not provide voter registration figures. Therefore, it is hard to compare turnouts from year to year. Also, due to a federal court ruling, boards of election are prohibited from purging their voting lists until the year 2000. Therefore, the voting registration figures in the remaining 86% of the states are inflated.
Taken separately, the 44 states and the District of Columbia which do supply voter registration figures, the drop in voters was 9.9%. Given that the United States grew by about 4% from 1994 to 1998, a good guess at the actual relative decline from 1994 to 1998 is 7%.
However, the voting patterns varied widely from state to state. Minnesota, had the highest percentage of voters, with an increase of 7.3% over 1994. The big turnout resulted in the upset victory of independent Reform Party gubernatorial candidate, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, over his Republican and Democrat challengers. The Democratic candidate was Hubert Humphrey III, the Minnesota Attorney General and the son of Hubert H. Humphrey, the former Mayor of Minneapolis, United States Senator, Vice-President of the United States, and Democratic candidate for President in 1968.
At the other end of the spectrum, Virginia saw a decline in turnout of 36.2%. This can be attributed to two things: the absence of a statewide race and an increase in the number of unopposed congressional candidates. In 1994, Virginia saw a hotly contested Senate race between Senator Charles Robb, former President Lyndon B. Johnson's son-in-law, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who rose to fame as part of the cast of the Iran-Contra Arms sale scandal during President Ronald Reagan's second term.
While turnouts normally decline in the absence of statewide races, the steep drop in Virginia was caused by the fact that 7 of the state's 11 congressional representatives had no major party opponent on the ballot in 1998, compared with only 3 unopposed in 1994.
The drop in votes in Virginia is consistent with other low turnout states like Tennessee (bad news from Al Gore's home state), Texas (bad news from George Bush's home state), Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. All these states also had high percentages of congressional candidates running unopposed. Turnout in Tennessee was down 24%. Four (44%) of the 9 congressional districts had uncontested races, up from 1 (11%) in 1994. In the Tennessee State Senate, 52% of the candidates had no opponents and in the Tennessee State House of Representatives 63% had no opponent. When races are uncontested, it is no surprise that few people bother to go to the polls.
In Texas, 11 (40.7%) of the 30 congressional districts had only one candidate of the two major parties. The Texas State Senate ran 62.5% unopposed and the State House of Representatives was 64.6% unopposed. In Florida, 18 (78.2%) of the 23 congressional districts had only one major party candidate on the ballot. In the Florida state legislature, the Senate was 65% unopposed and the House 58.1% uncontested. In Mississippi, 40% of the United States House of Representative seats were decided before the election, and in Louisiana it was 71.4%, or 5 of the 7 seats from the home state of that virtual Speaker of the House of Representatives Bob Livingston.
The 6 states of Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana had a combined 47 unopposed congressmen out of their delegation of 84 house representatives, more than a majority. This 6 states accounted for half of the unopposed congressional representatives, and together they account for more than 1/3rd of the electoral votes needed to be elected President.
At the other end, Kentucky's turnout increased 5.4% to keep their Republican congression representatives, and Wisconsin turned out to keep Russ Feingold, the incumbent Democratic Senator who accepted no Political Action Committee contributions and faced a heavily financed challenge from Republican Congressman Mark Neumann. And Alabama turnout increased 4.2% to throw out the incumbent Republican Governor "Fob" James..
So, the message in the turnout of the 1998 is clear. The voters will turnout to throw them out. They will also turnout to keep people they think are worth keeping. But they will not turnout if the races are uncontested.
The incredible thing about this election, after a steep decline in the turnout, the House of Representatives decided to impeach President Clinton, whose election in 1992 attracted 32 million more voters, almost 50% more than the turnout 6 years later, in 1998. And the margin for the impeachment, the Democrats who crossed over to vote against Clinton, came from the states of Virginia and Texas, the states that had the biggest decline in turnout.
It is clear that the people in Washington are not listening to what the voters are saying.
|1998 Pop||Est. Eligible||Voting|
|District of Columbia||523,124||366,187||141,977||38.7717%|
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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf