Election 2020

Historic U.S. Turnout Still Lags Behind Major Democracies

Record voter turnout is expected in the United States. How does it stack up?

By , a deputy editor at Foreign Policy, and , an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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The United States is on track for its highest electoral turnout since 1908—likely around 65 percent of eligible voters, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project. But U.S. turnout usually lags behind that of other developed democracies.

In Sweden’s general elections in September 2018, 82.1 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls. Preelection polling suggested that the far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party would win big. The final results revealed no clear winner, but the election appeared to put the center-left Social Democrats in control of the country’s agenda, after pushing other parties to the right on immigration policy during the heated campaign. Unlike in the United States, Sweden’s elections were held on a Sunday, giving as many people as possible the opportunity to vote.

The United States is on track for its highest electoral turnout since 1908—likely around 65 percent of eligible voters, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project. But U.S. turnout usually lags behind that of other developed democracies.

In Sweden’s general elections in September 2018, 82.1 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls. Preelection polling suggested that the far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party would win big. The final results revealed no clear winner, but the election appeared to put the center-left Social Democrats in control of the country’s agenda, after pushing other parties to the right on immigration policy during the heated campaign. Unlike in the United States, Sweden’s elections were held on a Sunday, giving as many people as possible the opportunity to vote.

In December 2019, the United Kingdom’s parliamentary elections saw 62.3 percent turnout, just below estimates for Tuesday’s elections in the United States. That election kept Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party in power—they won the largest percentage of the popular vote since 1979, picking up seats long held by the Labour Party. It also granted Johnson a mandate to proceed with his plan to leave the European Union on Jan. 31. The U.K. election was held on a Thursday, but Britain allows voting in person, by mail, and by proxy.

See the figures above from nine other major democracies to get a sense of how the United States compares.

James Palmer is a deputy editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @BeijingPalmer

Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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