Poor employment conditions linked to low November 2014 voter turnout, analysis of county-level Tennessee data shows

Voters in Tennessee’s Nov. 4 general election tended to be plentiful where jobs were plentiful and scarce where jobs were scarce, a new analysis shows.

Fifty-nine percent of counties with the best employment numbers posted better-than-typical voter turnout rates, compared to only 39 percent of counties with poor or only good employment conditions, according to the analysis, which matched Tennessee county-level voter turnout data from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office with November 2014 employment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The statistically significant pattern has only about a 5 percent chance of being purely coincidental, although it’s not clear exactly how employment conditions and voter turnout might have been linked. The analysis classified county unemployment rates falling below the statewide median as the best. Similarly, the analysis deemed voter turnouts high if they exceeded the statewide median.

Scott County, which posted Tennessee’s highest November 2014 unemployment rate, 12.4 percent, had the second-worst voter turnout rate, 22.2 percent. Only Hancock County’s 19.9 percent voter turnout was lower, and Hancock’s unemployment rate was the fourth worst in the state at the time.

At the other end of the spectrum, Lincoln County, with the state’s best unemployment rate, 4.3 percent, posted only a mid-range voter turnout of 31.7 percent, the 29th worst out of 95 counties. More typical of the overall pattern was Williamson County, with the second-best unemployment rate, 4.6 percent, and also the second-best voter turnout, 44.2 percent. The highest voter turnout rate appeared in Loudon County, where 44.9 percent of voters went to the polls, and the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, the 17th best in the state.

November 2014 unemployment and voter turnout for Tennessee Counties

The analysis does not prove that high unemployment rates kept voters at home on election day. It indicates only that voting and unemployment showed an inverse, nonrandom association at the county level. But it could be that the economic stresses represented by a high unemployment rate tended to discourage voters from casting a ballot instead of motivating them to turn to voting as a way to improve their lot. Other factors likely played a role, too, though. For example, good employment levels and high voter participation rates are probably both associated with high levels of education.