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Late Registrants Could Swing Presidential Election in Some States

Voters who register in the week before deadline more likely to vote

Release Date: September 23, 2008

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People who register to vote in the next couple weeks could be the deciding factor in the 2008 presidential election, according to political scientist Joshua Dyck.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo political scientist Joshua J. Dyck, Ph.D., says that Democrats and Republicans would be wise to concentrate on registering new voters right now because late registrants are more likely to vote in national elections than those who register early.

"Because the presidential race is shaping up to be close, turnout could very well be the deciding factor again as it was in 2000," Dyck says, "and if a party can win the turnout battle, swinging a swing state is possible."

Dyck, assistant professor of political science at UB, bases his assumptions on a study of voter participation in the 2000 presidential election, which he conducted with colleagues at the University of Maryland and the University of Texas.

"The study found that people who register to vote closer to registration deadlines are much more likely to vote on Election Day than are people who register earlier in an election year," he says.

"So the takeaway message for political campaigns focused on get-out-the-vote efforts is -- you'll get more bang for your buck if you focus on the narrow window close to the registration deadline, which is coming up in the next two weeks in most states.

"That's where we see a huge surge in voter registration and those people are much more likely to turn out to vote," Dyck says.

"The findings from our paper suggest that there is a fertile ground in registering new voters in the weeks leading up to the closing deadline, which is the first week of October in many states.

"Voters registered in the course of an election campaign are more regular voters than those who registered during the course of the year at the DMV, etc.," he says.

"Given the scores of new voters brought into the primary process through the competitive and historic Democratic race, it will be interesting to see if these folks turn out on election day. The fear for Obama has to be that many young voters registered in the spring are college students, who are notably transient.

"If they changed residences, or moved after graduation, bringing them into the fold during the primary may be insufficient to get them to turn out in the November election."

The study found that people who registered to vote the week of the registration deadline were 16 percent more likely to vote than those who registered one year from the deadline. Of the late registrants, young adults were 15 percent less likely to vote than older adults, and women were more likely than men to turn out. Across all counties studied, an average of 125 percent more registrants signed up in the three weeks prior to the deadline than in all previous weeks.

The researchers also found that Republican late registrants were much more likely to vote than late-registering Democrats. The study showed that in most places where Democrats "won" the election in 2000, they had to register many more people than the Republicans because the GOP's new registrants appeared to vote at almost twice the rate as new Democratic registrants. Late registrants from both parties were more likely to vote than independents.

Dyck's co-researchers were James G. Gimpel, Ph.D., professor of government at University of Maryland, and Daron R. Shaw, Ph.D., associate professor of government at University of Texas.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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