Roughly two in every three eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2020 election, according to a new Pew analysis, a stunning number that smashes all previous turnout records.
In total, 66.2% of eligible voters participated in the 2020 election. That’s more than the longtime modern turnout record of 65.7% of eligible voters in the 1908 presidential election between William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan.
It’s also far higher than the 60.1% of eligible voters who cast a ballot in the 2016 race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And also a major improvement from the previous high in recent elections – when 61.6% of eligible voters participated in the 2008 election won by Barack Obama.
There’s no question that the hugely divisive nature of Trump’s candidacy (and presidency) had much to do with the turnout surge as voters – both those for and those against the 45th president – believed the stakes to be massively high.
The other major factor in the historic turnout of 2020 was the bevy of states changing their rules to allow more mail-in/absentee balloting due to concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Being able to cast a vote from your house and simply drop it in the mail lowered the bar for people who might not have gone to a polling place to do their civic duty.
“Turnout rates increased in every state compared with 2016, but of the 10 states where it rose the most, seven conducted November’s vote entirely or mostly by mail, our analysis shows. Six of those states had recently adopted all-mail voting, either permanently (Utah and Hawaii) or for the 2020 elections only (California, New Jersey, Vermont and most of Montana).”
It’s also worth noting that the five states with the highest turnout of their eligible voters (Minnesota, Colorado, Maine, Wisconsin and Washington state) all voted for Joe Biden, while four of the five states with the lowest turnout chose Trump. (Hawaii was also one of the lowest turnout states but voted for Biden.)
The Point: Circumstances conspired to make 2020 turnout one for the record books. Trump’s massively controversial presidency coupled with election law changes designed to allow more mail-in balloting created a perfect storm. In short: Don’t expect turnout in 2024 to come anywhere close to 2020 levels.