According to Vladimir Putin, voter turnout in Sunday’s Duma elections – estimated at 39% as I write this – was “not the greatest, but high.”  Was it?

I took a look at IDEA’s Voter Turnout Database, which has data on all parliamentary, presidential and European Parliament elections across the world since 1945. Where does a 39% voter turnout in a national parliamentary/legislative elections rank?

Well, for starters:

  • The lowest turnout in an American congressional election was 2014, at 42.5%. Yes, that’s pretty close to 39% and might make easy fodder for the quick-to-false-equivalence crowd, but keep in mind that:

1. Americans vote in congressional elections every two years (all House of Representative seats plus 1/3 of the Senate) unlike the rest of us who go every four, five or six years. Voter fatigue much?

2. 2014 was a midterm election (i.e., not voting for a President at the same time) which always have markedly lower turnouts than in presidential years. Case in point: 2010: 48.6% / 2014: 42.5%. 2008: 64.4% / 2012: 64.4%, the years Obama was (re)elected.

  • The lowest turnout in recent Canadian history was 2008 (59.5%), if anyone other than me cares about Canada as a reference point. We’d had one less than three years before, both producing Stephen Harper (Conservative) minorities, or ‘hung parliaments’ for the more British among you.
  • As for the UK, the lowest was 59.4% turning out in 2001 for Tony Blair and Labour’s second straight victory.
  • France’s lowest was 55.4% in 2012. Legislative elections, since 2002, fall right after presidential elections in France (i.e., a month after you vote for president).
  • Next door in Ukraine, the October 2014 Rada elections had a turnout of 52.4%.

It gets worse when you look at the entire data set for parliamentary elections (excluding countries like Australia that have compulsory voting, and leaving out two outlier elections that had [!!!] 2.3% and 100.3% turnout)…out of more than 1400 national parliamentary elections worldwide, 4% had voter turnouts of 40% or less. Only 11% even had voter turnouts of 50% or less.

I guess it all depends on what your definition of высокой is.