As Americans get ready to cast their ballots for the 2020 election, over 235 million people are eligible to vote. Here are five facts on voter turnout in the U.S.
- Voter turnout in the 2016 general election was roughly 56%.
During the 2016 general election, 255 million Americans were over the voting age of 18, but only 140 million ballots were cast. Turnout for registered voters was significantly higher than for eligible voters, at 63%.
- The 2018 midterm elections had the highest voter turnout in five decades.
Since 1970 voter turnout in midterm elections has ranged from 33% to 47%, but the 2018 election had an unusually high turnout of 52% from the citizen voting age population and 57% from registered voters. Turnout increased among all age groups and major racial and ethnic groups. Reversing the trend of declining interest in midterm elections, 2018 had a historic 11-point increase from 2014, an election with the lowest turnout in five decades.
- Voter turnout peaked in the 19th
From 1840 –1900 turnout in presidential election years stayed above 70% and went over 80% three times. The highest ever turnout in American history was in 1876 when 82% of the citizen voting age population cast ballots. During this period, young voters between the ages of 18 and 24 had particularly high turnout relative to other periods in history. In the last five presidential elections, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 have had turnout rates nearly three times lower than voters over 65, with the lowest turnout in 2000 at 35%.
- Since 1972, voter turnout in presidential elections has stayed within a nine percentage point range.
The lowest turnout was 49% in 1996 and the highest was 58% in 2008. Nonetheless, turnout among several voting groups has increased recently. For example, with the exception of the 2016 presidential election, turnout among Black voters has been rising since 1996. In 2012 67% of Black voters cast ballots, marking a record high for Black turnout and the highest turnout of any racial or ethnic group in that election.
- The U.S. trails most developed democracies in voter turnout.
In a recent study, the Pew Research Center compared voting data from 32 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. placed 26th in turnout by voting age population. The countries with the highest average turnout rates were Belgium with 87%, Sweden with 83%, and Denmark with 80%. Several other developed countries have “compulsory” voting laws where citizens are required to vote and are subjected to fines, losing the right to vote for ten years, or employment restrictions if they don’t.