[Screenshot image via FVAP]
The Federal Voting Assistance Program has released a new study of overseas citizen voters around the world which simultaneously shows how far-flung the community is and highlights its low participation rate in American elections. From the release:
Today the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) released a detailed analysis of American voters overseas that estimates the population of eligible voters and includes results of the first-ever representative survey of registered overseas voters who requested an absentee ballot.
“Accurately estimating and studying overseas U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote presents many challenges,” FVAP Director Matt Boehmer said. “I am proud that this innovative study will greatly increase our knowledge of and ability to serve this important group.”
FVAP estimates there are 2.6 million U.S. citizens who live abroad and are eligible to vote in U.S. elections. Based on this research, the voting rate for all eligible overseas voters in 2014 was 4 percent. “While we can expect to see an increase in the overall voting rates for the 2016 Presidential Election, we need to understand whether the overall rate for 2014 is due to low awareness of how to vote absentee or if it is related to other factors,” Boehmer said. “We will continue to leverage this new methodology following the 2016 General Election.” [emphasis added]
FVAP’s study sought to obtain a more detailed picture of the overseas citizen community – which excludes uniformed servicemembers and their families – by casting a wider net for data at home and abroad:
FVAP used data from foreign countries, U.S. Government administrative sources and academic studies to estimate the number of Americans eligible to vote in countries around the world. Countries with the largest numbers of eligible U.S. voters (age 18 and older) are Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Japan and Australia.
To learn more about the registered voters among the broader population of eligible overseas voters, FVAP surveyed U.S. citizens who lived abroad and requested a ballot for the November 2014 election. Fifty-seven percent said they voted, which is more indicative of traditional calculations of voter turnout. [According to the study, the comparable figure for the 2012 election was 72 percent.] [emphasis added]
While there is no typical member of this diverse group, the average age is 49; two-thirds are working; and they are highly educated, with nearly half holding a graduate or professional degree and another third holding a bachelor’s degree. They last lived in the U.S. an average of 13.6 years ago, and nearly half (43%) are dual citizens.
FVAP’s summary of the report highlights some key questions going forward:
I’d also be curious to learn more about the calculation of the community’s voting age population; the analysis found that the majority of overseas citizens were not of voting age (approximately 3.1 million out of 5.7 million total). The report does suggest that some countries (like Mexico) have larger populations of non-voting-age overseas citizens but that number is still surprisingly high.
Kudos to FVAP and their partners at the Fors Marsh Group for carrying out this study; it’s a very valuable report that illuminates how far-flung America’s overseas citizen community is and one that will hopefully spur further analysis- and better yet, action – to address why participation rates for this community are so low.