See also the publications Voter Turnout Since 1945: A Global Report and Voter Turnout in Western Europe since 1945: A Regional Report, which are based on the data in this database.

Do "established" democracies have higher turnout than other countries?

Figure 15: Differences between established democracies and other states over time

Key: VAP = voting age population
Figure 16: Freedom House Rating
Key: VAP = voting age population
no. = number of elections
FH = Freedom House rating of political rights and civil liberties
Figure 17: Political rights and civil liberties
Key: VAP = voting age population

While the leaders in turnout during the 1990s are predominantly new democracies, when one looks at broader figures there does appear to be a difference in turnout between "established democracies" and the rest of the world. When classifying "established democracies" we follow the categorization of political scientist Arend Lijphart, who includes all countries that are democratic now, and have been democratic for the last 20 years, which have a population of at least a quarter of a million people1. The overall average turnout in the post-war period for Lijphart's 36 established democracies is 73%, which contrasts with the an average of 59% for the remaining 136 countries. Nevertheless, as Figure 15 illustrates, turnout rates in both established democracies, and the rest of the world have been converging over time. If we assess elections by the environment of political rights and civil liberties in which they are held (Figure 16) then we find that the 353 elections held in countries which were ranked as "free" had average turnout rates of 72%. The 41 elections in "not free" countries gave rise to a rate of 63%, but interestingly the lowest turnout rates, averaging 59%, are found in "partly free" countries. As Figure 17 graphically illustrates, over the last 30 years voter participation in elections held in "free" countries has slowly declined - from a high of 74% in the 1970s to 71% in the 1990s. Conversely, elections held in "not free" countries have demonstrated a marked rise in voter turnout over the last 30 years - advancing from a low of 51% in the 1970s to 65% in the 1990s. Elections held in "partly free" countries did have higher turnout between 1970 and 1990, but since then they have fallen to a low of 57%.

Voter Turnout

Access the Voter Turnout database

Voter Turnout per country: