WASHINGTON – Driven by an intense race for the presidency, a greater percentage of Americans voted Tuesday than at any time in more than three decades.
About 120 million people cast ballots, or just under 60 percent of eligible voters — the highest percentage turnout since 1968, said Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate (search). He expected more detailed figures later Wednesday.
One county clerk in Illinois spoke for poll workers across the country saying 54 percent of eligible voters, or about 105.4 million, voted.
President Clinton's 1996 re-election bid drew just 49 percent of eligible voters, about 96.3 million. But his 1992 challenge to the first President Bush brought out 55.2 percent of eligible voters, or about 104.4 million.
Officials had eyes on whether Tuesday's turnout would rival the 1960 benchmark, when about two-thirds of eligible voters came out to back either Democrat John Kennedy (search) or Republican Richard Nixon (search).
At least six states — Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia — and the District of Columbia set new voter-turnout highs, according to Gans' analysis.
"On both sides, the presidency of George Bush was a lightning rod," he said. "For those who supported him, they supported him for traditional values, strong leadership, the war on terrorism and some rejection of things that the Democrats advocate," such as abortion rights and gay civil unions.
"On the other side, it was the war on Iraq, debt, the feeling he hadn't been candid with the American people, too conservative values and division in the country," Gans said.
When it comes to voting, the United States still has some distance to go to match the participation of voters in other democracies. But by U.S. standards, Tuesday shaped up as an impressive show.
In California, the estimated voter turnout was 12 million, a record for the state.
"It's a landslide of people coming out, which is nice," voter Theresa Cocco, 45, a business owner, said outside the Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach. "It renews my faith in society."