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Government & Politics

Study: Moderate Voter Registration Increase Propels New Record

Registration for the 2008 general election increased by a moderate and estimated 2.5 percentage points but still reached its highest level at least since women were given the vote in 1920.

According to a report released today by American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE), when all the registration figures are final and official, an estimated 153,100,000 eligible citizens will have registered or 73.5 percent of the eligible population, more than the previous high of 72.1 established in 1964.

Based on final and official registration figures from 21 states and nearly final but unofficial figures from 11 more, registration, when all states are counted, will have increased by an estimated 5 million more American citizens than would have registered had registration rates stayed the same as they were in 2004. This marks the second straight presidential election in which there was a significant increase in registration. In 2004, registration increased by an even greater three percentage points.

“And this, in turn, could lead to a turnout of as many as 135 million or 64.8 percent of eligible citizens the highest since 1960 when 67 percent of eligibles voted – the high point since women were given the right to vote in 1920,” said Curtis Gans, CSAE’s director. (The 67 percent is an estimate, factoring in African-American citizens who were counted as eligible but denied the vote throughout the South.)

Based on the 19 states (of 28 states and the District of Columbia which have partisan registration) and when final figures are available from all states that report registration, Democratic registration will have increased by an estimated 1.4 percentage points or by 2,916,000; Republican registration will have declined by 1,458,000; and registration for citizens affiliated with neither major party will have increased by 607,000. (Also when final figures are in, there may be some variance with these estimated numbers but the pattern will hold.)

This marked the third straight presidential election of Democratic registration increase (but the only significant one) after nearly four decades of decrease from a high of 49.4 percent of eligible citizens in 1964 to a nadir of 35.9 percent in 1996.

This year marked the 12th successive election where the percentage of those registering for something other than the major parties (for other parties or as independents) increased from a low of 1.6 percent of eligible citizens in 1960 to 22.0 percent now.

The decrease in GOP registration was small and its estimated level not very different from the last two elections when it hovered around 28 percent of eligibles. The fact that GOP registration declined in this year of intense citizen interest in the election is significant.

Democratic registration increased by the largest amount in the battleground states of Nevada, Pennsylvania, Colorado and the new battleground state of Arizona. It also increased significantly in the non-battleground states of New Jersey and Maryland.

Of concern for the GOP, Republican registration decreased in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania. But they did record gains in Nevada.

Non-major party registration increased in 16 of the 19 states that reported their registration as of this release, losing ground only in New Jersey.