Recall Numbers Rethought

I keep hearing the word “mandate” bandied about with regards to the Recall election.

I don’t like that word. Not everyone agrees with me. Let me tell you why I think what I think.

To do so, let’s explore, in a very How To Lie With Statistics way. Statistics and numbers always come with what Bill “walking off in a huff” O’Reilly calls “spin.” One can make numbers contort to make your point. This is something that innumeracy makes worse.

So let’s do some mathematics. Google will help.

Here’s the election summary.

Votes against recall: 3,559,400
Votes for Schwarzenegger: 3,743,393

The difference between the two:
3,743,393 – 3,559,400 = 183,993

Expressing that as a percentage for/against recall:
183993 / (4,415,341 + 3,559,400) = 0.0230719719

Result: Voters ogainst the recall lost to Arnold voters by a 2.3% margin

So let’s express all this in terms of voter turnout, to further throw cold water on the state’s collective excitement about this election. OF COURSE I’M BIASED, I THOUGHT THE RECALL WAS NOT A GOOD IDEA, A DISTRACTION, AND A WASTE OF STATE FUNDS. Okay, voter turnout. State election statistics from this PDF file from

Eligible voters in 2003: 21,833,141
Actually registered eligible voters: 15,380,536
Percentage of eligible actually registered: 70.45%

On the question of the recall, 7,978,767 voted (4,416,280 + 3,562,487)
So if we crunch these further:

Percentage of eligible voters to vote for Arnold:
3,744,132 / 21,833,141 — 17%

Percentage of registered voters to vote for Arnold:
3,744,132 / 15,380,536 — 24%

Percentage of eligible voters who bothered to show up and vote at all:
7,978,767 / 21,833,141 — 36.5%

Percentage of registered voters who bothered to show up and vote all:
7,978,767 / 15,380,536 — 51.9%

What I’m saying is despite all the wonderful excitement about how engaged we all are in this political process, in my opinion these numbers are low – and I’m not talking about Arnold as much as I’m talking about people getting involved in government at any level.

I’m not denying Arnold won in the least. He’s my Governor-Elect. I think I clearly use the term “mandate” and phrases like “the people have spoken” different than the media and those who like to put a face of unanimity on things. Perhaps talk like mine is not productive, but I’m a curious guy, and my mind wanders to the bigger picture.

37% of the eligible public voting is not something to be proud of. Where I went to school that was a failing grade. (There, I got all melodramatic).

In pointing out these statistics I’m not necessarily saying 100% turnout would have changed the result. But there’s clearly a problem here. The right to vote is central to how the “democracy” part of our democratic republic is supposed to work — and yet it is ignored by 2 out of 3 people eligible? I continue to be mystified by this. It continues to upset me, and I will continue to harp on this issue indefinitely.
Here’s a random article via google on voter turnout:

Between 1980 and 1989, voter turnout in Sweden, Denmark and Greece ranged between 80 and 90 percent of the voting age population, according to experts. During the same period, the United States averaged 53 percent.

In countries where voting is compulsory and staying home from the polls to watch television is punishable by a fine, such as Australia, Belgium and Austria, the figure was in excess of 90 percent.

So if we are to believe those numbers, voter turnout in this historic recall as expressed as a percentage of eligible citizens, this voter turnout is poor to average. Maybe a D+ if we’re grading on a curve?

That’s how I read the numbers two days after the election.

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