Topic:
STATISTICAL INFORMATION; VOTING; LEGISLATION; CAMPAIGNS - PUBLIC FINANCING; ELECTIONS (GENERAL);
Location:
CAMPAIGNS - PUBLIC FINANCING; VOTING;

OLR Research Report


May 7, 2007

 

2007-R-0358

UPDATE: PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCING AND VOTER TURNOUT

By: Kristin Sullivan, Associate Analyst

You asked for information on voter turnout in states with public financing programs for campaigns. You are particularly interested in a comparison of the voter turnout in (1) these states to the national average, (2) Connecticut to these states, and (3) states with new programs before and after their enactment. This report updates OLR Report 2001-R-0397.

SUMMARY

When we issued OLR Report 2001-R-0397, 14 states provided public funds to candidates for use in political campaigns. Today, 16 run such public financing programs. Since 2001, Connecticut and New Mexico established programs, Massachusetts and North Carolina repealed programs but replaced them with others, and Kentucky eliminated its program entirely. (We did not count Massachusetts' first program in the 2001 report because the legislature never funded it, thereby rendering it inoperable.)

We looked at election data for these 16 states beginning in 2000, comparing their voter turnout to average voter turnout in the U.S. We also looked at turnout rates within each of these states and how Connecticut ranked among them. Finally, we examined voter turnout before and after public financing in those states that had recently enacted a program when we issued our first report or did so since that time. They are Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Vermont. (This was not possible for Connecticut since the program did not become effective until after the 2006 election.)

Generally, we found average voter turnout in states with public financing programs to be higher than the national average. When compared to these states Connecticut usually ranked in the lower half, though its turnout rate was consistently higher than the national average. Just as we reported in 2001, comparisons within each state of voter turnout before and after public financing are not particularly revealing. While most showed evidence of increased turnout since enacting public financing programs, they often also showed decreases when compared to elections several years prior. Interestingly, Kentucky's voter turnout increased in the 2006 mid-term election after its program terminated compared to the previous mid-term election.

AVERAGE VOTER TURNOUT

According to a 2003 General Accountability Office report on public financing in Arizona and Maine, several factors influence voters' participation rates in elections, including the candidates and their messages, mobilization efforts, campaign spending, media interest, and negative advertising (see OLR Report 2005-R-0191). Thus it may be difficult to attribute differences in voter turnout to public financing programs.

Our research reveals, however, that average voter turnout is somewhat higher in states with public financing programs than in all U.S. states taken together. This appears to be true in both presidential election years, when turnout is historically higher, and in mid-term election years, when it is lower. For example, in the 2002 mid-term election, turnout was about 41% for states with programs versus 36% for all states. And in the 2004 presidential election, it was about 59% versus 55%.

Table 1 provides an overview of states' public financing programs. It includes information on eligible candidates and whether the programs fully or partially finance their campaigns. For the last four national elections, the table provides voter turnout rates as a percentage of the voting age population (VAP), which refers to all individuals over age 18.

TABLE 1: AVERAGE VOTER TURNOUT

State

Offices Covered

Full or Partial Funding

Turnout as % of VAP

     

2000

2002

2004

2006

Arizona

n All statewide

n Legislative

Full

40.2

30.1

48.0

33.4

Connecticut*

n All statewide

n Legislative

Full

[56.6]

[38.9]

[58.8]

[42.2]

Florida

n Governor

n Cabinet members

Partial

47.9

39.5

56.6

34.1

Hawaii

n Governor

n Lt. Governor

n Off. Hawaiian Affairs

Partial

39.9

40.2

43.8

34.8

Kentucky*

n Governor

Partial

50.4

36.4

56.9

[38.8]

Maine

n All statewide

n Legislative

Full

66.4

50.1

71.3

52.2

Maryland

n Governor

n Lt. Governor

Partial

51.0

41.6

56.8

42.1

Massachusetts*

n All statewide

Partial

[55.4]

[44.4]

58.8

45.1

Michigan

n Governor

Partial

57.3

42.4

63.5

49.9

Minnesota

n All statewide

n Legislative

Partial

66.4

59.7

73.0

55.6

Nebraska

n All statewide

n Legislative

Partial

55.0

37.3

59.1

44.3

New Jersey

n Governor

n Select legislative districts

Partial

50.1

32.6

55.0

34.2

New Mexico*

n Public Regulation Commission

Full

[45.4]

[35.7]

[53.9]

38.0

North Carolina

n Governor

(1988-2003)

Partial

47.5

37.2

54.6

29.0

n Judicial

(2004-present)

Full

Rhode Island

n All statewide

Partial

50.7

40.1

51.9

46.8

Vermont

n Governor

n Lt. Governor

Full

63.1

48.1

64.0

53.0

Wisconsin

n All statewide

n State Supreme Court

n Legislative

Partial

64.5

43.2

71.5

50.4

Average among states with public financing

53.6

41.3

59.0

42.9

U.S. average

50.0

36.3

55.3

37.0

Sources: National Conference of State Legislatures and United States Elections Project, George Mason University

*One or more years of state's data excluded from the calculation for the average among the states with public financing programs since its program was not in place as indicated by the bracketed figure or figures.

VOTER TURNOUT IN CONNECTICUT

In 2005, the Connecticut General Assembly passed the Citizens' Election Program (PA 05-5, October 25 Special Session). Under the program, legislative and statewide offices candidates who receive qualifying contributions, agree to limit their spending, and comply with other requirements are eligible to receive state grants to fund their campaigns. Since the program was not effective until December 31, 2006, it is not yet possible to determine whether it will influence voter turnout.

As Table 1 shows, Connecticut's voter turnout is higher than the national average. Among states with public financing programs, it ranked sixth, tenth, seventh, and ninth, respectively, during the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 elections.

VOTER TURNOUT BEFORE AND AFTER PUBLIC FINANCING

It is difficult to draw conclusions concerning the relationship between public financing and voter turnout from comparisons of voter turnout before and after the enactment of public financing programs. Several factors, including competitive elections, the Internet, and grassroots efforts, could explain increases in voter participation.

Arizona

Arizona's candidates first applied for public funding under the Citizens Clean Elections Act during the 2000 election cycle. Since then, voter turnout has gone up in both the presidential and mid-term election years. In relation to some prior elections however, turnout is lower.

Year

Turnout as % of VAP

2006

33.4

2004*

48.0

2002

30.1

2000*

40.2

1998

28.0

1996*

41.1

1994

35.6

1992*

51.3

Source: United States Elections Project, George Mason University

*Presidential election year

Public financing program's first year

Maine

Like Arizona, Maine's Clean Election Act became effective for the 2000 election cycle and voter turnout reveals no clear pattern. Turnout rose in the last mid-term election compared to the one preceding it (2006 compared to 2002), yet dipped before that (2002 compared to 1998). Similarly, turnout rose in the 2004 presidential election but of all the years we examined, was highest in 1992.

Year

Turnout as % of VAP

2006

52.2

2004*

71.3

2002

50.1

2000*

66.4

1998

50.8

1996*

64.2

1994

54.9

1992*

73.1

Source: United States Elections Project, George Mason University

*Presidential election year

Public financing program's first year

Massachusetts

In 1998, Massachusetts voters passed a ballot initiative establishing a full public financing program for statewide office and legislative candidates. The legislature did not fund the program and after repealing the law, replaced it in 2003 with a partial public financing program. Thus, 2004 was the first election cycle when candidates could receive public funding. While voter turnout has risen since that time, it is probably too soon to determine whether the program has been an influencing factor.

Year

Turnout as % of VAP

2006

45.1

2004*

58.8

2002

44.4

2000*

55.4

1998

39.7

1996*

54.2

Source: United States Elections Project, George Mason University

*Presidential election year

Public financing program's first year

New Mexico

In 2003 New Mexico passed a public financing law for Public Regulation Commission candidates. But public funding was not available to candidates until 2006 so it is difficult to determine whether the program affected voter turnout in that election. It is also difficult to predict whether the program will affect voter turnout in future elections. Over the last 20 years voter turnout in New Mexico has been higher than the national average in mid-term election years, but lower in presidential election years with one exception (2002).

Year

New Mexico's Turnout as %of VAP

Turnout in U.S.

as % of VAP

2006

38.0

37.0

2004*

53.9

55.3

2002

35.7

36.3

2000*

45.4

50.0

1998

38.8

35.3

1996*

44.5

48.1

1994

39.1

38.5

1992*

50.4

54.7

1990

38.2

36.5

1988*

49.8

50.3

1986

38.5

36.5

Source: United States Elections Project, George Mason University

*Presidential election year

Public financing program's first year

Vermont

The 2000 election was the first for candidates to receive funds under Vermont's campaign finance program. Since then, voter turnout has risen significantly between mid-term election years and slightly between presidential election years. Like some of the other states, previous elections produced even higher voter turnout rates, particularly the 1992 presidential election.

Year

Turnout as % of VAP

2006

53.0

2004*

64.0

2002

48.1

2000*

63.1

1998

48.1

1996*

58.2

1994

48.7

1992*

67.9

Source: United States Elections Project, George Mason University

*Presidential election year

Public financing program's first year

HYPERLINKS

OLR Report 2001-R-0397, Voter Turnout and Public Campaign Financing, http://cga.ct.gov/2001/rpt/olr/htm/2001-r-0397.htm.

OLR Report 2005-R-0191, Public Funding for Political Candidates in Maine and Arizona: A General Accountability Office Report, http://cga.ct.gov/2005/rpt/2005-R-0191.htm.

KS:dw