The Electoral Boogieman: Voter Suppression Dirty Tricks

Lexis/nexis search results for "voter suppression", graphed over time.

Lexis/nexis search results for “voter suppression”, graphed over time.

I set out to look into voter suppression in terms of political communication, and ended up finding something a bit odd — while systematic disenfranchisement is very real, the kind of “I can’t believe they did that!” suppression we hear about in the news appears to be largely a made-up problem. Something which a handful of amateur would-be election riggers engage in, and which professional communicators then seize upon as a resource for fundraising and partisan mobilization.

My storify:

How do we know? A simple Google search. When you hunt for “voter suppression” and, say, “flyers”, you get a handful of results, and most of what you find is a lot like the three examples shown here:

Quite honestly, those all seem like the sorts of things some bored, pissed-off crackpot would come up with on a Sunday afternoon. What’s more, I suspect their largest impact on elections comes not through vote suppression, but through the indignation such efforts inspire. Anger is a valuable commodity in the polarized political world.

The Female Edge

The Female Edge

Republicans beware: The women are coming.

Turnout advantage/disadvantage for women since 1964. Red color shows an edge for women, blue an edge for men.

Turnout advantage/disadvantage for women since 1964. Red color shows an edge for women, blue an edge for men.

Given that women vote overwhelmingly democrat, trends in turnout among the genders have serious implications for the  balance of power between the parties.

Data analysis shows that women have gone from a 4 point turnout deficit in the 1964 presidential election to a 4 point advantage in 2012. This advantage shift is even more dramatic if you look at it as a relative difference between the genders — in that case, women started with a 6.82% deficit and now enjoy a 7.54% advantage — roughly a 14 point swing.

To quantify this advantage, a “female edge” figure has been computed. To do so, the turnout rate for women for each election is taken and divided by the turnout rate for men. This gives a relative difference between the genders, rather than what would be arrived at if one simply subtracted the male turnout percentage from the female turnout percentage.

Over time, a clear and distinct trend is visible, showing that women are now going to the polls at a higher rate for men, and that this trend is on a very consistent upward climb. As the years pass, women are coming to dominate turnout figures.

Pundits often discuss the threat posed to the Republican party by increasing numbers of Hispanic voters. This may be a very real danger, but it isn’t the only one the Republicans face. If they continue to lag heavily behind the Democratic party in popularity with women, the female edge means Republicans face an ever-more-difficult path to electoral victory, particularly in national elections.

Using the tool, more information can be examined. For instance, these trends become markedly worse if you break things down by age. The only group where men have a higher turnout rate than women is in the 65-and-over crowd. Given that this group is aging, and dying, and given that the female edge is even greater among the other age brackets, it’s difficult to view these numbers as anything other than great news for Democrats, and a looming danger for the GOP.