Newspapers, TV news made flawed comparisons between voter turnout in Iraq, U.S.


Media outlets have erroneously likened reported voter turnout in Iraq to that of the United States. According to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, 58 percent (or 8.55 million) of the 14.66 million Iraqis registered actually voted on January 30. But contrary to assertions by numerous media outlets, this figure is substantially lower than voter turnout in the U.S., which in 2004 was approximately 122 million out of the approximately 173.6 million registered voters, or 70 percent. Between 1992 and 2000, the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots in U.S. presidential elections ranged from 66 to 78 percent.

In making the erroneous comparison, the media presumably relied on the more typically reported 2004 presidential election figure of 60.7 percent turnout in the 2004 presidential election. But that percentage is not of registered voters; it is of a larger pool of eligible voters, numbering approximately 201 million.

Nonetheless, the following newspapers, news anchors and pundits compared Iraqi voter turnout with U.S. voter turnout, failing to take into account that the Iraqi turnout figure is based only on registered voters while the U.S. figure is based on eligible voters:

  • ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings: "We now know that 58 percent of eligible voters participated, which is about the same as the last presidential election here." [2/14/05]
  • CNN's American Morning anchor Soledad O'Brien: "When you look at the numbers, 58 percent of Iraq's register[ed] voters participated. That's pretty darn close to what we get in the United States, and this is for a first election, and yet the number of Sunnis who participated much, much lower turnout there." [2/14/05]
  • A Washington Post op-ed by Josef Joffe, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution: "People [Iraqis] flocked to the polls at a rate -- 58 percent -- that exceeded voter participation in most recent U.S. presidential elections." [2/14/05]
  • CNN's Crossfire, guest host Joe Watkins: "Think about it: 58 percent, close to 60 percent of them came out to vote on Election Day. In the United States, we don't go out to vote if it is raining outside." [2/14/05]
  • ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, former secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush and current special presidential envoy on Iraqi debt James A. Baker III: "When you look at what the Iraqi people did by turning out 60 percent, the same turnout we had in the U.S. elections." Host George Stephanopoulos failed to clarify Baker's statement. [2/13/05]
  • A New York Times article by Michael Wines: "And 6 in 10 eligible Iraqis -- roughly equal to the turnout in President Bush's own victory last November -- voted anyway." [2/6/05]
  • A Santa Fe New Mexican op-ed by TIME magazine columnist William M. Stewart: "The Iraqi elections have been a great success, and congratulations are in order to the Iraqi people who put their lives on the line in order to vote. The turnout seems to be close to 60 percent, which is better than in the United States." [2/5/05]
  • A St. Petersburg Times op-ed by author Diane Roberts: "Best estimates put Iraqi turnout at around 60 percent. In the 2004 American presidential contest it was 59 percent." [2/5/05]
  • A Boston Herald editorial: "By all accounts the Iraqi turnout could exceed the 60 percent recorded during in the 2004 U.S. presidential election." [2/1/05]
  • A Charlotte Observer editorial: "Yet elections officials estimated the turnout at 60-plus percent of the 14.2 million eligible voters - greater than the 60.7 percent turnout in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. It was a stunningly brave expression of commitment to a democratic process leading toward self-governance." [2/1/05]
  • CBS' Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer: "It appears, I'm just told, now that eight million Iraqis voted. That may be 60 percent of the vote. They turned out at a greater rate than Americans turn out for presidential elections." [1/30/05]
  • On the January 30 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, co-anchors Bill Weir and Kate Snow:

WEIR: Welcome back, everyone. You're looking at pictures of Iraqis going to the polls today. The polls there close in about a half hour or so. There's one report out that, from the Iraqi Election Commission claiming 72 percent turnout nationwide. It's so hard to tell though at this early stage.

SNOW: But that would be enormous.

WEIR: That would be enormous.

SNOW: Our turnout here in the United States our last election was nearly 60 percent, just to give you some perspective.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy
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