To hear the candidates and the media tell it, every presidential election year has greater historical importance and is more frenzied and intense than any previous election. But the share of U.S. adults who actually vote has been voter turnout has mostly been trending down over time. Here's are some basic facts from a chartbook put together by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
The youngest group of voters from age 18-24 have seen a rise in turnout recently, especially from 2000 to 2004, and there is a more modest rise in turnout for some other age groups. But all elections since 1988 have had lower turnout than that year; in turn, 1988 had lower turnout that the presidential elections from 1964-1972.
I see the chart as a reminder of a basic truth: Elections aren't decided by what people say to pollsters. They are determined by who actually casts a vote.