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Voter Registration and Turnout by Age in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1996-2008

Voter Registration and Turnout by Age in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1996-2008

This chart takes a look at voter registration, turnout, and turnout-of-registered trends across the past four presidential elections in the United States: 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. The data come from the Current Population Survey and are smoothed to reduce the variability across age due to survey sampling. My previous version showed voter registration and turnout for 1996-2004, so this version has the added comparison of the 2008 elections.

A few things that pop out:

  • Voter registration of newly eligible voters (18-20 years old) fell slightly in 2008 compared to 2004, and is very slightly higher for the rest of the youth cohort (21-29).
  • Those older than 30 have a drop in registration compared to 2004, falling back to 2000 levels.
  • Turnout for youth is similar for the 18-20 year old group with small increases for the 21-29 repeat voters compared to 2004; the huge increases compared to 1996/2000 are maintained all the way up to age 40. Older voters have the same or lower levels of turnout compared to 2004.
  • At the top, turnout of those registered was the highest for young people in 2008. This suggests that GOTV to young people has continued to improve, particularly if we look back to the much lower curves for 1996 and 2000.

What other thoughts or interpretations do people have? And what do you think about the chart - any ideas for improvement? The main thing I would like to add is an additional table or bar chart showing the distribution of the population across age groups, which will help with gauging each age cohort's relative importance in terms of total votes.

Finally, I have attached the Excel file with the data and the chart itself, so feel free to download it and play around with things. It also includes an alternative black-background version which should be better for projection and makes the colors pop - it was inspired by Al Gore's climate change slides, which were in the background as I updated this chart.


To make the graph quicker to read you might want to change turn out to "turn out of eligible population." For people who do not think about voting all of the time it would make it more understandable since there is a "turn out of registered" to confuse them.

Thanks, yeah I can see how that could be confusing. I guess my implicit audience is more campaigners and political scientists, but changing "turnout" to "turnout of eligible" or adding explanatory text at the bottom would make it more self-explanatory.