The major races in Pennsylvania have been decided, and while statewide turnout is down in comparison to the midterm election four years ago, the results at Penn reveal a more complex story.
An Associated Press projection estimated 42 percent of registered voters turned out nationwide on Tuesday — a rise of 1.2 percent from 2006. Preliminary campus tabulations indicate that Penn students voted in similar numbers to the last midterm election. Meanwhile, turnout in Pennsylvania is expected to decline slightly, once the final numbers are crunched.
The national picture
Across the country, youth voters did not turn out in the same percentages on Tuesday as they did in the 2006 or 2008 elections.
According to exit polling from the Tufts University-based Center for Information and Research for Civic Learning and Engagement, an estimated 20.4 percent of voters under 30 voted in the 2010 election, a drop-off of 3.1 percent from the last midterm election in 2006.
Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, described the drop-off as “statistically significant,” but emphasized that the 3.1-percent difference did not constitute a “dramatic decline.”
Levine also emphasized that the dramatic drop-off in turnout from 2008, which CBS exit polling estimated at 50 percent, was not a useful comparison. Historically, turnout is far higher for presidential elections for all segments of the electorate, he explained.
“It is important, but it is not at all surprising,” Levine added.
In Pennsylvania, about 167,000 fewer people voted in the 2010 Senate race than in 2006 — a 4.1-percent drop. The 2006 race featured Democrat Bob Casey cruising to victory over Republican incumbent Rick Santorum.
Student political leaders on both sides of the aisle stressed the effect of turnout on the race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak and Republican Senator-elect Pat Toomey.
“A large amount of independents and Republicans turned out because of the past two years,” College Republicans President and Engineering junior Peter Terpeluk said.
Terpeluk attributed the decline in turnout across the state in part to Pennsylvania Democrats choosing to stay home this election cycle due to dissatisfaction with Democratic policies.
“Not voting is a way of expressing your voice,” he explained.
While some volunteers and supporters at Democratic headquarters Tuesday night blamed Sestak’s loss on a lack of turnout in Philadelphia, Democratic student political leaders on campus disagreed.
“We actually outperformed in Philadelphia,” Associate Campus Coordinator for Penn for Sestak and Wharton sophomore Troy Daly explained.
Several major news organizations estimated turnout in Philadelphia to be around 41 percent — nearly the nationwide average.
“This was a statewide issue,” Daly added. “I think a lot of people were turned off this election.”
Turnout on campus held steady in comparison to the previous midterm election.
The 1,460 students that turned out to vote on campus Tuesday roughly matched the 1,500 students that voted in the 2006 midterm election, according to Penn Leads the Vote Executive Co-Director and College senior Jared Fries.
“I think we did a good job in spite of the enthusiasm gap that many pundits have talked about,” he said.
Student political leaders expressed a mix of surprise to modest dissatisfaction with turnout on campus.
“I thought it was stronger than what could be expected,” said College Republicans Treasurer and Wharton junior Charles Gray, a former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist. “I was a little surprised.”
“We would have liked to have had numbers closer to 2008,” Daly said. “I don’t want to say we were disappointed. It was about what we expected.”
Noting a few trends in the election numbers, Fries argued that in comparison to 2006, “freshmen appear to have underperformed in comparison to upperclassman.”
Fries supported his argument by pointing to a decrease in total votes at polling stations in Houston Hall and David Rittenhouse Laboratory, whose voting rolls are widely comprised of freshman who live in the Quadrangle and Hill College House.
Fries compared those numbers to increased turnout at polling locations in Harnwell and Harrison college houses, whose registrants are largely composed of upperclassmen.
In addition to poll watching, PLTV also spent time calling students who had not yet voted from a “war room,” making about 500 calls in under two hours.
Noting that largely Democratic college campuses like Penn had far more enthusiasm during the 2006 elections, Gray attributed the consistency in turnout at Penn to the efforts of PLTV.
“I think it was PLTV calling people in the last few hours that made those margins,” he added.
Noting a sudden rise in turnout in the hours following the get-out-the-vote effort, Fries added that the surge was the “biggest, most significant increase in turnout that we could have ever hoped for.”Comments powered by Disqus
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