Monday, December 16, 2013

Turnout in Chile

Lots of news stories about yesterday's Chilean presidential runoff election mention turnout. The worst offender is Fox News Latino: "Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Presidential Election in a Landslide, Despite Small Turnout," as if turnout and margin were somehow related. You can win or lose big no matter how many people vote.

The turnout focus, though, doesn't get adequate explanation. Voter registration is now automatic in Chile, but voting became voluntary, whereas before it was compulsory. There was every reason to believe that turnout would plummet. In particular, the combination of a lopsided contest and a stable economy left many people figuring there was no reason to vote. It happens in the United States all the time.

Plus, young people vote in smaller numbers than older people. Telling young Chileans they could choose whether or not to vote didn't change that.

So 41% of registered voters decided they would participate in an elected whose outcome was clearly predetermined. If you think about it that way, it doesn't sound quite as bad, or surprising.


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