Record Turnout? Not So Much.

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Noted election expert Curtis Gans of American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate finds:

Despite lofty predictions by some academics, pundits, and practitioners that voter turnout would reach levels not seen since the turn of the last century, the percentage of eligible citizens casting ballots in the 2008 presidential election stayed at virtually the same relatively high level as it reached in the polarized election of 2004.
According to a report and turnout projection released today by American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE) and based, in part, on nearly final but unofficial vote tabulations as compiled by the Associated Press as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 5, the
percentage* of Americans who cast ballots for president in this year’s presidential election will reach between 126.5 million and 128.5 million when all votes have been counted by early next month.
If this prediction proves accurate, turnout would be at either exactly the same level as in 2004 or, at most, one percentage point higher (or between 60.7 percent and 61.7 percent). If the rate of voting exceeds 61.0 percent of eligibles, turnout will have been the highest since 1964. This projection is based on the 121.5 million tabulated votes compiled by the Associated Press plus some estimate—partially based on experience with post-election vote counting in previous elections and partially based on factors specific to this election, most notably the spread of balloting prior to Election Day—on how many ballots are still to be counted.

But, wait, what about all those lines we saw across the country on election day? :

A downturn in the number and percentage of Republican voters going to the polls seemed to be the primary explanation for the lower than predicted turnout. The percentage of eligible citizens voting Republican declined to 28.7 percent down 1.3 percentage points from 2004. Democratic turnout increased by 2.6 percentage points from 28.7 percent of eligibles to 31.3 percent. It was the seventh straight increase in the Democratic share of the eligible vote since the party’s share dropped to 22.7 percent of eligibles in 1980.

* Gans must mean total number here, not percentage. A 120-million% turnout would be high indeed.