Turnout in the 2016 Presidential Election

Posted by Haley Smith on November 16, 2016

This piece has been updated on November 20, 2016.

Contrary to early projections of sharply lower turnout in this year's presidential election, the final numbers will show the most ballots cast in American history and a modest decline in voter turnout of eligible voters. That said, just over 58% of the voting eligible population (VEP) will have voted, far lower than many other democracies around the world.

As of November 11th, Michael McDonald of the United States Elections Project had estimated voter turnout (total ballots counted divided by the VEP to be at roughly 56.9 percent - a number is almost two percentage points lower than the 58.6 percent turnout estimated in 2012 and more than five points lower than the 62.2 percent record high turnout of 2008. However, as more mail ballots trickle in, turnout estimates are rising. The Project now estimates 2016’s presidential turnout to be around 58.4 percent, which puts 2016 results on par with the 2012 presidential turnout. As ballot counting continues into December, turnout estimates may change. 

By October 31st, over 22 million people had cast early votes for the 2016 presidential election. In some states, like Texas and California, the number of early votes was up substantially from 2012. That fact,combined with high viewership of debates, led to expectations that turnout might rise in share of VEP.  Then, early numbers from the November 8th election suggested turnout was actually sharply lower, with some outlets reporting that voter turnout was nearly the lowest it had been in a presidential election in 20 years. The truth turns out to be in the middle.

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