Voter Turnout In the 2016 Election Was Not Great

by Sunnivie Brydum

As early exit polls and election results begin to roll in, voter turnout in the 2016 election looks like it's lower than in previous years, with initial estimates suggesting about 57 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot in this election.

According to The New York Times, more than 22 million votes had already been cast at the beginning of November. While those votes, which include mail and absentee ballots, weren't formally included until Election Day, The Times and several other media outlets have reported that early voters tended to favor Democrats. That was good news for Hillary Clinton and down-ticket Dems who were hoping to regain control of the Senate, but conservative voters have historically shown strong in-person election turnout results.

Simultaneously, some outlets reported that early voting turnout among African-Americans, especially in key swing states, had been below average. The New York Times pointed out that this could have spelled trouble for Clinton, who has traditionally enjoyed strong support among black Americans. A decrease in early voting numbers was particularly disconcerting for pollsters who celebrated the fact that 2012 marked the first time that black Americans cast more ballots than white Americans.

By contrast, at the beginning of November, early voting returns suggested that Clinton was enjoying a sizable lead among Latino voters over her opponent. The exit polls and preliminary results suggest that trend dropped off by Election Day.


Republican candidate Donald Trump's meager appeal to African-American voters, was reflected in the exit polling data, which showed a measly 8 percent support among African-Americans. However Trump's outright hostility to Latino voters during his campaign still won him a sizable 29 percent support among Latinos.


President Obama's 2008 victory brought out a record number of young and millennial voters — who preferred Democratic candidates by a 66 percent margin, according to Pew Research Center. In 2012, millennial turnout was similar, with about half of eligible voters age 18-29 heading to the polls. Once again, millennials strongly preferred Obama to Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In total, between 22 and 23 million millennials voted in the 2012 election.

Millennial turnout for this year is estimated to be 50 percent and basically on par with years past. Preliminary estimates suggest 24 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in this election.

Although this year's candidates suffered from a serious enthusiasm gap compared to the effective mobilization of Obama's "Hope and Change" message, voter turnout in the 2016 primaries neared record levels, according to Pew. In fact, in New York, voters aged 18-29 turned out in greater numbers for this year's primary than they did to elect Obama in 2008. Most pundits attributed that boost in turnout to the energetic supporters of Sanders. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as though that enthusiasm was matched by the presidential election.