Do we use our right to vote?

Hi there, it’s Veronika from the communications team, and today I’ll try to answer an important question: Do people living in democracy take advantage of its greatest benefit, their right to vote?

Two months ago, my home country elected a new president. The result of the election was a relief for many. But other than relief for the 58% of Czech voters who saw their candidate win, another number turned out better than predicted. A full 70% of eligible voters used their right to vote in the second round of the election, 2% more than in the first round. Compared to previous elections, presidential or parliamentary, that was an unusually high voter turnout, which made me think.

What counts as a high turnout? Do we take our democratic rights for granted when people in other countries don’t have that luxury? How do other countries compare?

To try and answer these questions, I used two sources: the recently updated Democracy Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit and IDEA’s Voter Turnout Database. Both datasets offer a myriad of options to explore these topics. I decided to go with the overall democracy scores and voter turnout for the most recent elections, parliamentary or presidential.

I plotted the data in a scatterplot and colored the dots by whether voting is mandatory in the country or not. Although there may not be any clear answers at first sight, I have noticed the following trends:

  • Authoritarian regimes see both the lowest and the highest voter turnout. In this category, voter turnout ranges from the low of 18% in Haiti, a country marked by conflict, disaster, and a loss of hope, with several canceled elections in a row, to the high of 98% in Laos and Equatorial Guinea. Although both of those countries hold elections, they have one-party systems without any real opposition.
  • With higher democracy scores, voter turnout goes up and its range narrows. Since the extreme situations described above are unlikely, voter turnout in more democratic countries tends to be closer to the average, which increases along with democracy scores. While the average voter turnout in authoritarian and hybrid regimes is 62% and 59% respectively, the number goes up to 65% in flawed democracies is 65% and 72% in full democracies.
  • Most democratic countries with the highest turnout are Nordic countries. Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway all rank at the top in terms of democracy and report a high 77-84% voter turnout. Finland is the only Nordic country lagging behind, with only 68% of eligible voters coming out on election day.
  • Mandatory voting is more common among full and flawed democracies than authoritarian regimes, and it doesn’t guarantee a high voter turnout. Although turnout is higher on average, not all countries with compulsory voting enforce the rule, which explains some of the lower numbers. Egypt, an outlier with only 29%, is a good example.

So, all in all: yes, a voter turnout of 70% is pretty high. It’s higher than the global average of 64% and even above average among flawed democracies. We can always aim higher — in terms of our state of democracy, voter turnout, and other forms of civic engagement — but we seem to be heading in the right direction.

I hope you learned something and maybe even decided to investigate further! This is my last Weekly Chart here, so if you have any feedback or would like to get in touch, you can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Otherwise, you’ll hear from Gregor, our head of data vis, next week!