A handful of scandals in Washington during the past year as well as low approval ratings for Congress in general lead one to speculate whether voters will be turned off by politics and stay home in November, or motivated to—as some pundits claim—’throw all the bums out.’

Minnesota and the rest of the Upper Midwest usually lead the country in turning out the vote in general elections. However, turnout in non-presidential election years is noticeably depressed even in this politically engaged part of the country.

Overall, voter turnout in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin has averaged 68% in presidential elections since 1960, compared to just 52% in off years. Minnesota leads the pack in presidential elections during this span (72%) with South Dakota ahead in off years (58%).

Minnesota has turned out the vote quite well in off years during recent elections—inspired in part by competitive races, tragic events (Senator Paul Wellstone’s death) and notable third party campaigns (Jesse Ventura, Tim Penny) that have generated unusual interest and media coverage. In 2002 63% of voting age adults in the Gopher state took the time to vote, preceded by 60% in 1998. The same cannot be said for its neighbors Iowa (47%, 45%) or Wisconsin (45%, 46%).

2006 is an off year election, and no one yet knows if turnout will be dismal, approaching record highs, or somewhere in between. It is even more difficult for political junkies to speculate on turnout, as our interest in politics is horribly skewed compared to the average voter. Smart Politics will therefore wait until November 8th to make our predictions.