Minnesota Leads Nation in Voter Turnout for Seventh Straight Election Cycle

Minnesota voters, buoyed perhaps both by a strong sense of civic duty, a high interest in politics, and a little thing called same-day registration, have once again led the country in voter turnout in the 2008 election. The Gopher State has now topped the country in turnout in seven straight elections, dating back to 1996.

In 2008, 77.8 percent of Minnesotans voted in the presidential election (voter turnout, as calculated by the United States Elections Project is computed by the ratio V/E, where V is the largest total vote cast for highest office in a given election year in a state, and E is the number of people eligible by law to vote in that state). This is the second highest turnout rate in the Gopher State dating back to 1962 – second only to 2004 (78.4 percent).

Since 1980, Minnesota has led the nation in 11 of 15 elections, coming in second in voter turnout in 1992 (to Maine) and 1982 (to Alaska), sixth in 1994, and twelfth in 1986.

Minnesota’s turnout was 16.2 points higher than the national average in 2008 (61.6 percent), though this was the state’s lowest margin since 2000 (15.3 points). Minnesota topped the national average by a whopping 24.6 points in 2002, 18.3 points in 2004, and 19.8 points in 2006. Since 1980, Minnesota voter turnout has averaged 17.0 points above the country as a whole.

The Upper Midwest overall continued to pace the nation in 2008: Wisconsin came in second to Minnesota at 72.5 percent, with Iowa fifth at 69.7 percent.

This year marked the second best turnout rate for the Hawkeye State since 1966, and the first time it landed in the Top 5 states in the country in the last 28+ years. Iowa also benefited from same-day registration, with a total of 47,553 voters registering at the polls on Election Day, according to Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro.

Wisconsin had also ranked second to Minnesota back in 2004, and its 2008 turnout rate was its second best since 1962. Wisconsin has ranked among the Top 10 states in voter turnout eight times since 1980. Iowa, meanwhile, had appeared in the Top 10 just five times. Both states have averaged about 8 to 9 points ahead of the national curve during this 15-election cycle span.

South Dakota, however, ranked just 26th in the country in voter turnout this year – by far its worst performance (vis-à-vis other states) during the past 15 elections. South Dakota had turned in 13 Top 10 finishes since 1980, including one first place finish (1994) and three second place finishes (1986, 2002, and 2006). South Dakota has averaged 12.3 points higher than the national voter turnout rate since 1980, but only 2.1 points higher in 2008.

The 70.9 percent average turnout in the four Upper Midwestern states was the region’s second best mark since 1980 (behind 2004, at 72.8 percent). However, due to South Dakota’s poor showing, the average rank of the four states was 8.5 – just 12th best out of the past 15 elections. The performance of Minnesota (#1), Wisconsin (#2), and Iowa (#5), however, was the best ever during this span for these three states.

Upper Midwestern Voter Turnout Rank, 1980-2008

Year
Iowa
Minnesota
South Dakota
Wisconsin
Region
2008
5
1
26
2
8.5
2006
14
1
2
6
5.8
2004
6
1
8
2
4.3
2002
12
1
2
17
8.0
2000
8
1
18
3
7.5
1998
14
1
6
11
8.0
1996
12
1
5
13
7.8
1994
15
6
1
27
12.3
1992
12
2
8
3
6.3
1990
13
1
8
30
13.0
1988
10
1
4
5
5.0
1986
16
12
2
17
11.8
1984
7
1
5
4
4.3
1982
9
2
3
19
8.3
1980
10
1
4
3
4.5

Note: data compiled from the United States Elections Project.

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