Chart of the week #21: What happened to election turnout between 2000 and 2010?

84% of registered voters voted in 2000, just 42% in 2010. That’s an incredibly fast drop-off. So what happened?

Well, I don’t think anyone really has the answer. If you look at the more detailed numbers, you see that the number of registered voters almost doubled between 2000 and 2010, but that the number of people who actually voted stayed about the same (though it rose for the election that came between, in 2005).

Turnout in Tanzanian Presidential Elections, 2000-2010
Election For Date Votes Registered Voters Turn Out
President 2000-10-29 8,517,598 10,088,484 84.43%
President 2005-12-14 11,875,927 16,401,694 72.41%
President 2010-10-31 8,398,415 19,670,631 42.7%
data source: IFES Election Guide

Some possible explanations:

1.Disaffection? People are tired of politics, don’t see that there’s anything to be gained by voting?

2. An unexpected consequence of to the shift to a permanent voter register? This could be the case if, for example, a lot of people in 2010 found themselves living in one place and registered to vote in another?

3. Mobile money. To sign up for mobile money services you need some form of ID – a voter registration card was one of the few forms of ID that was cheap and accessible to everyone. If people joined the voter register just as a way of getting access to mobile money, that would artificially inflate the voter register and deflate the turnout.

One way or another, I think it has to be linked to young people. The increase in registered voters between 2000 and 2010 will have been almost entirely due to young people. And it is possible that all three of the reasons given above apply more to young people than to others – they are more disaffected, more mobile, more connected to new technology.

Nevertheless, none of these possible explanations seem very convincing to me. They might each have had a small effect, but even in combination, I can’t see how they could have led to the turnout dropping from 84% to 42%. There must be something else going on.

With an election now just over 12 months away, there are both risks and opportunities here. People with little faith in democracy will look for other ways of making their voice heard – which could lead to violence. Alternatively, if a party can work out why people didn’t vote in 2010, perhaps they can find a way of convincing them to vote for them next year.

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Hat tip to Dilhani for pointing me in the direction of this data.

3 thoughts on “Chart of the week #21: What happened to election turnout between 2000 and 2010?

  1. Steve

    Demographics is definitely a good place to start with shifts this big. As well as the youth theory (which I like), could this also be linked to rural > urban migration? I think CCM’s get-out-the-vote effort is probably a pretty well oiled machine in rural villages, but it is easier for people to disappear off the radar in big urban settlements, especially the more fluid slum areas.

    Another factor that might have contributed to the variation in actual # votes cast is that in 2005 JK was standing for the first time, so maybe there was a sense of excitement, especially among CCM supporters? To a degree this could also mesh with your youth theory: although JK had been around for a long time, he was also half a generation younger than Mkapa, so may have connected better with youngsters who then rapidly tired of him?

    But overall I like best your suggestions about the permanent voter role and identification documents: quite possibly these numbers have relatively little to do with actual politics.

  2. Pingback: Chart of the week #22: Trying to explain the low turnout | mtega

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