California is the Godzilla of voting

June 2, 2014

In 2008, Alaska set a new record for the number of people that came out to vote for (or against) the state's former governor who was on the national ticket as John McCain's running mate. Initial reports put the tally above 320,000 voters; it ended up being about 326,000. The state didn't do that well four years later. 2008 was a peak.

The last time California saw 320,000 people come to the polls to vote was in 1916, when 324,000 people voted. In a primary.

California is the most populous state, of course, but it's hard not to marvel at the extent to which it's larger than the rest of the country. If recent patterns hold, Tuesday's election could see 5.5 million people come out to vote, in a midterm primary election.


But, again, this is much more remarkable when you compare it to other states. We took turnout from the past four presidential general elections from each state to see how they compare to California's primary turnout, just to explore scale.

Montana's highest turnout presidential election since 2000 was 2008, when 492,000 people came out to vote. California topped that in the primary of 1918. Nevada's one-million-plus in November 2012 was passed by California in the primary of 1926. And so on upward:

State Peak total since 2000 In Passed in CA primary
Alabama 2,099,000 2008 1938
Wisconsin 3,068,000 2012 1950
North Carolina 4,505,000 2012 1964
Pennsylvania 6,013,000 2008 1972
New York 7,641,000 2008 2000

Again, we're comparing presidential general elections with California's primaries.

If California sees 5.5 million voters tomorrow, that will be more people than live in the following highlighted states:


It would be a higher number than the peak number of voters in general elections since 2000 in all of these states:


And below are all of the states that saw fewer voters head to the polls in every general election since 2000 than California saw in its 2008 primary.


Only California can outdo California.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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