Voter Turnout and a Closer Look at the Exit Polls

November 6 2008, 9:25 AM
Nationally, Tuesday's voter turnout was an unprecedented 121 million. Colorado county clerks and recorders were primed for a similar record turnout. The Rocky Mountain News reports that in Denver and other large counties, it didn't materialize. In fact, this year's turnout may not have exceeded that of 2004, which was 2.1 million voting for Bush and Kerry in the presidential election. The Denver Post reports turnout was higher this year. To decide which of these reports is more accurate, I checked the numbers provided by the Colorado Secretary of State's office. As of November 3, there were 3.2 million registered voters, both active and inactive. Of the mail-in ballots: 1.6 million were sent out, and 1.3 million were returned. Early voting captured 365,000 people. With 92 percent of precincts reporting (100 percent in all counties but Adams and Boulder), 2.1 million of the eligible 3.2 million voters actually voted. That leaves 1.1 million registered voters who didn't vote. The county breakdown for registered voters, which I round off to the nearest thousand, is here (pdf). Among Colorado's largest counties, Denver had 415,000 registered voters. El Paso had 374,000, Jefferson 371,000, Arapahoe 344,000, Adams 220,000, Boulder 218,000, and Larimer 211,000. CNN's Colorado election results are here. Crunching the numbers, I find:
Arapahoe: 230,000 voted out of 344,000. No shows: 114,000; 67 percent turnout Denver, 256,000 voted out of 415,000. No shows: 159,000; 62 percent turnout El Paso: 261,000 voted out of 374,000. No shows: 113,000; 70 percent turnout Jefferson: 284,000 voted out of 371,000. No shows: 87,000; 77 percent turnout Larimer: 153,000 voted out of 211,000. No shows: 58,000; 73 percent turnout
(Again, Adams and Boulder results are not fully in yet.) An interesting corollary is the difference in voter demographics between this year and 2004. CNN's 2008 Colorado exit poll results are here. The 2004 Colorado exit polls are here. This year, voters who believed the most important issues were terrorism and energy policy went heavily for McCain, while a majority of voters citing health care, Iraq, and the economy chose Obama. McCain's promise of change didn't convince Colorado voters: 97 percent who considered change the most important presidential quality voted for Obama. Of those who believed experience was the most important quality, 96 percent voted for McCain. In 2004, the top issues for Colorado voters were moral values, Iraq, terrorism, and the economy. Taxes and health care ranked toward the bottom. On moral values, terrorism, and taxes, they far preferred Bush. On Iraq,the economy, and health care, they preferred Kerry. Also, in 2004, 25 percent of voters thought bringing change was the most important quality for a leader. Four percent of these voters thought President Bush would be most likely to bring change, while 95 percent chose Kerry, just two percentage points less than Obama got on that issue this year. White evangelical voters made up 19 percent of voters. Of them, 27 percent voted for Obama, while 71 percent voted for McCain. Independents split their votes equally between the candidates. In 2004, 26 percent of voters were white evangelicals, and they went 86 percent for Bush, 13 percent for Kerry. So there were fewer white evangelicals voting this year, and Obama picked up 14 percent more of their votes than John Kerry. Seventeen percent of Colorado voters were Latino, and they chose Obama over McCain 60 percent to 38 percent. Looking at 2004, only eight percent of Colorado voters were Latino, and 30 percent of them chose Bush while 68 percent chose Kerry. Women made up 56 percent of voters in 2004, and they chose Bush 51 percent to 48 percent for Kerry. This year, 52 percent of voters were women, and they chose Obama 57 percent to 41 percent for McCain. So Obama did better with Colorado women than both Bush and Kerry in 2004. Bottom line: Four years and a disappointing Republican Administration make a big difference. Statisticians will have a field day analyzing these numbers to come up with a cogent explanation of how Coloradans have changed, if at all, in their preferences and their expectations of their leaders.