Americans will cast their vote s for members of Congress on Nov. 6 as the world watches how the ballots will influence the country’s domestic and international policies.
Yet despite heavy spending on campaigns and rallies, the United States reports one of the lowest voter turnouts in national elections among developed democracies, according to a report from bipartisan think tank the Pew Research Center. And America is in good company: Citizens in other developed countries , such as Switzerland and Luxembourg, also report low turnouts.
The United States ranked 26th out of 32 countries for its percentage of people eligible to vote who actually do cast ballots, according to data that Pew analyzed from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Only 55.7 percent of voting-eligible Americans showed up at the polls for the 2016 presidential election, placing the U.S. behind most developed countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.
The data analyzed by Pew differ from statistics measuring turnouts of registered voters. Voting-eligible populations account for a larger number of people and thus have the ability to greatly influence election results, a fact roiling the U.S. midterm campaigns as worries spread across the country about voter suppression.
Several European countries report even lower percentages of voting-eligible people who do vote than the U.S.: Luxembourg reported a 55.1 percent voter-eligible turnout in a national election, Slovenia recorded 54 percent, Poland experienced a 53.8 percent turnout of eligible voters and Latvia reported 51.6 percent.
Switzerland is home to the lowest percentage of voting-eligible people in a developed country who cast ballots in a national election. In 2015, less than 40 percent of citizens who were eligible showed up at the polls.
The country ranked No. 1 in the 2018 Best Countries report, a global survey of more than 20,000 people released at the beginning of this year. But while Switzerland is seen as excelling in many areas, such as quality of life and innovation, it seems to have a complex relationship with voting. The reasons are many, and are generally tied to the frequency with which the Swiss are called to the ballot box.
“As soon as you’re done trying to understand the intricacies of the summer voting session, it’s time to start deciphering how you will vote in autumn; the cycle offers little respite,” wrote Domhnall O’Sullivan in a report for Swissinfo.ch, a local media platform.
Low voter turnout is all the more surprising because Switzerland is one of a handful of countries that have some form of compulsory voting. Its northernmost canton (a Swiss administrative region), Schaffhausen, where around 1 percent of the Swiss population lives, can fine those who fail to show up at the polls on election day. Voters in the canton can be excused from casting ballots by claiming illness or a long-due holiday.
Chile also scored low in the Pew analysis — only 52.2 percent of its estimated voting-eligible population showed up at the polls in the last national election. Chile used to practice compulsory voting, but converted to voluntary voting in 2012 and saw a drop at the polls.
“Even though essentially all voting-age citizens were registered for Chile’s 2013 elections, turnout in the presidential race plunged to 42 percent, versus 87 percent in 2010 when the compulsory-voting law was still in place,” said the author of the Pew study.
Belgium, by contrast, reported the highest turnout rate of its voting-eligible population, at 87.2 percent. The author of the report estimated that one reason might be the fact that the country is among 24 worldwide and six within the OECD to practice compulsory voting. Belgium was followed by Sweden at 82.6 percent voting turnout in a national election , and Denmark at 80.3 percent.
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