Voter Turnout Analysis

We’ve put together an online interactive spreadsheet where you can adjust African-American, youth (18-29), and Republican turnout in the primary 18 states targeted by the Obama campaign. Here are electoral projections based on three different turnout models.

Scenario 1 – 10% Increase Among Blacks and Youth: Under this assumption, thirty-two electoral votes from three states – Iowa, New Mexico, and Ohio – switch to the Democrats’ column. Obama also widens his lead in Democratic-leaning battlegrounds: opening up a seven point gap in Michigan, a five point spread in Pennsylvania, and a three point advantage in Wisconsin. All other things equal from 2004, the Illinois senator clinches the presidency with 284 electoral votes.

Likelihood: This model appears to be a conservative estimate. If blacks go to the polls at the same rate as whites across the nation, that would automatically translate into a twelve percent turnout increase; similarly, if youths vote at the national rate, their turnout would spike by twenty percent.

However, a caveat (you knew there had to be one) applies. We’re using national figures to project national turnout increases, but a specific demographic’s turnout varies widely from state to state. For example, Obama is targeting a few states in the South where blacks already vote at considerably high rates; thus, our projections may overstate the potential for turnout growth in states such as Georgia.

Scenario 2 – 20% Increase Among Blacks and Youth: Shade both Florida and Nevada blue, providing an additional thirty-two electoral votes that boost Obama’s total to 316. Colorado, Virginia, and Missouri – thirty-three electoral votes combined – narrow to within two percent.

Likelihood factor: This scenario paints an optimistic electoral map, but one maintaining plausibility. If youth turnout jumps to the national mean, the latter half of the model stands fulfilled. And spurred by the prospect of the first African-American president, blacks could turn out at unprecedented rates.

Scenario 3 – 20% Increase Among Blacks and Youth, 5% Decrease Among Republicans: The swing states – Colorado, Virginia, and Missouri – from the previous scenario flip Democratic, as Obama’s majority climbs to 349. Arkansas and North Carolina each close to a smidgen over two percent.

Likelihood factor: A highly improbable outcome. Republican turnout will dip by that magnitude only if some self-fulfilling prophecy of a Democratic landslide gains traction before Election Day; consequently, disillusioned Republicans already afflicted with ennui (less than 50% of the party expresses enthusiasm about McCain) decide to stay home.

A final note: These three scenarios create an identical copy of the 2004 election and then take into account only turnout changes. They don’t reflect other factors, such as anti-Republican sentiment, that would also alter the results.

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