Politics Could 2020 be the highest turnout election in a century?
'Unprecedented': Voter turnout in election could reach highest rate in more than a century
"Everyone is yearning to have their voices heard right now," one election official in Texas said about the record-breaking voter turnout.It's hardly slowed down since.
Eight days from the 2020 election, the story is just how many people are already voting.
Videos and photos of massive lines of people waiting to vote have gone viral. Sharing your "I voted" sticker is all the rage on social media. And the numbers are bonkers: According to data from CNN, Edison Research and Catalist,, and 33 states already surpassed their pre-election vote totals from 2016. (In 2016, 58 million total votes were cast early -- either in person or by mail.)
How battleground states process mail ballots -- and why it may mean delayed results
More Americans are voting by mail this election than usual, due to the pandemic. But processing those ballots takes more time. Here's how it works in battleground states. Because of the pandemic, more voters are opting to cast their ballots by mail this year. While the expanded access and increased use of mail-in voting is good for voters, it does create hardships for already strained election officials in many states, including key battlegrounds.
Numbers like those raise one obvious question: Just how high will turnout be in 2020? And one other follow-up question: Could 2020 break voter participation records?
The short answer to those two question is "very high" and "yes, potentially." The longer answer is, well, longer.
First off, historical comparisons on turnout are a) difficult and b) dicey. Difficult because the data collection systems in the 19th century weren't all that great. (Slow internet speeds back then!) And dicey because when we are talking "eligible voters," that excludes African Americans until 1870 and women until 1920.
Because of these issues, most political scientists and historians tend to go back only as far as the start of the 20th century when creating historical comparisons for our modern era. (Again, that includes two decades of women not being allowed to vote. But I digress.)
Trump’s Voter-Suppression Strategy Is a Crisis (Even If It Backfires)
Historic turnout doesn’t erase the threat posed by the GOP’s open contempt for the political rights of its opposition.Some have cited the latter fact as evidence that concerns over the former one have been irrational and overblown. They are wrong. Before getting into that, though, let’s review precisely how Donald Trump and his party are trying to win the 2020 election.
The modern standard for presidential turnout is 1908, whencast a ballot in the race between William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan. (The seat was open when .) The actual election was a bit of a walkover -- as Taft, benefiting from Roosevelt's popularity and endorsement,
Turnout declined steadily for, roughly, the next 50 years -- although it dipped below 50% of eligible voters only twice: in 1920 and 1924. (Those dips are explained by the hesitant participation of women in the elections after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in May 1920.)
In 1960, however, turnout surged back to near-record levels with 63.8% of eligible voters turning out to choose between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Kennedy's candidacy excited Americans previously uninterested in politics, while Nixon was a known commodity as the sitting vice president. The race was also extremely close throughout, perhaps convincing people more than usual that their votes mattered.
Black voter turnout was down in 2016. This time looks to be different.
For many Black Americans, the best way to fight a pandemic and systemic racism is to vote.“I don’t think [former Vice President Joe] Biden is willing to help the American people. ... I just think that he’s been in the office a long time. And I don’t notice what he did for young Black men — or Black people in general,” said Crosby, a junior at Morehouse College who is attending classes remotely from his home in Illinois. “I could say this, that my father said that he made more than he had ever made with [President Donald] Trump [in office] than he did Obama.
The 1960 election was a one-off, though -- as turnout in presidential elections slumped in its wake. In advance of the 1976 presidential election --, according to the United States Elections Project -- of the declining interest of the average American in their elections. Here's the key bit:
"The facts are clear and startling. American voting participation, never very high compared with other democracies, has been declining steadily since 1960. In that year, 64 percent of the eligible voters turned out to give a razor‐thin edge to John Kennedy over Richard Nixon. Since then—even though literacy tests, poll taxes and many other impediments have been swept away, and despite vigorous registration drives—voting has continued to slip, dropping to 55 percent in the last Presidential election, the lowest since the roaring and complacent twenties. The decline also coincides with the increase of mass exposure, through television, to the political process, but no one seems to know what effect that has had on turnout...
Black and Latino turnout lags white turnout in some key states. Democrats shouldn’t panic (yet).
Black and Latino voters are less likely to vote by mail. That doesn’t mean they won’t vote.It then warned that, despite record turnout throughout the country, turnout among certain minority groups lags behind white people in important states. “In Florida, half of Latino and Black registered voters have not yet voted but more than half of White voters have cast ballots,” Bloomberg reporter Tyler Pager wrote. He added that “in Pennsylvania, nearly 75% of registered Black voters have not yet voted.
"...The 'alienation' theory holds that, after Vietnam and years of Watergate scandal and other political rot, the electorate is turned off, cynical, distrustful of government, uncertain that their votes make much difference."
Whatever the reason, turnout in presidential election continued to slide. In 1988, fewer than 53% of eligible voters actually voted, while as recently as the 2000 election.
Barack Obama's candidacy in 2008 led to the highest voter participation rate in recent memory -- 61.6% of eligible voters -- but that number dipped to 58.6% for his 2012 reelection race. And even with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- two very well-known and uniquely divisive figures -- on the ballot in 2016, just 60.1% of eligible voters voted.
So why will 2020 be different?
Well, the 2018 midterm elections offer up some evidence that the electorate is very, very engaged. In Trump's first midterm election, 50% of eligible voters cast a ballot -- the highest percentage of participation in a midterm election since 1912 and a massive 13.3 percentage point increase from the dismal 36.7% turnout in the 2014 midterms.
What explains the surge? Asearlier this year -- :
Election Day 2020: How to keep up with election results
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"Prior to the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, just 50% of the voters thought that it really mattered who won, versus 44% who thought that things would be pretty much the same, whoever won. This year, a record 83%—including 85% of Democrats, 86% of Republicans—say that it really matters.
"Although divergent reactions to President Trump are driving some of this intensity, clashes on the issues are playing a role as well. Prior to the 2000 election, 51% of the voters believed that the major party candidates were articulating differing positions on the issues, compared to 33% who saw them as taking similar positions. This year, 86% perceive the candidates as differing on the issues, while only 9% see similarities."
In short: People believe now -- more than in recent memory -- that a) there are major differences between the two major parties and b) the identity (and party) of the election winner will have a profound effect on the future of the country.
There's little question, then, that turnout -- because of these feelings as well as a series of changes that make it far easier to vote by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic -- is going to be quite high. It seems likely to surpass the 61.6% participation rate in 2008. But could it get all the way to, say, 66% of eligible voters -- which would set a modern turnout record?
If turnout got to 65% -- just short of the record -- that would mean roughly 150 million ballots are cast,, who closely tracks turnout numbers with his US Elections Project. In 2016, by way of comparison, more than 133 million votes were cast.
The early vote numbers in 2020 are staggering. The real question is what turnout on November 3 actually looks like.
The biggest question is whether turnout on November 3 will break records -- but there's no question that it will be close.
Election Day 2020: Local results are in, stay tuned for national results by end of day .
Follow live updates as Battle Creek and Calhoun County results from the Nov. 3 general election in Michigan become clear.Follow along with live updates from the Battle Creek Enquirer as votes are tallied in Battle Creek and Calhoun County. Bookmark this page, or click refresh in your browser window for the most up-to-date local results in real time.