Elections & Government
According to the US Census Bureau, 67% of eligible voters registered to vote in 2018, with 53% of them ultimately casting a ballot. With just over three months until the November 2020 election, here’s an analysis of voting rates in past presidential elections and how they differ by state, race, and age.
Over the past several decades, voter turnout among US citizens has averaged around 45% for midterm elections and 57% for presidential elections.
The 2018 election had an unusually high voter turnout rate for a midterm, which typically have voter turnout rates about 10–20 percentage points below presidential elections. For example, the 2014 mid-term voting rate was 42%, 19 percentage points below the 2016 turnout of 61%. The 2018 voting rate was 53%, only 8 percentage points below the 2016 vote. This made it the highest voter turnout rate for a midterm election in 40 years.
In general, people who are white and non-Hispanic vote at the highest rate of any US citizen.
In 2016, 65% of white non-Hispanic voters turned out to vote, whereas 59% of Black voters did 49% of Asian voters did, and 48% of Hispanic voters of any race did. The 2012 election marked the highest turnout rate in the past 40 years for Black voters, at 66%. The 1992 election was the peak for both white and Hispanic voters of any race, at 69% and 52%, respectively.
However, the differences become more pronounced when considering the entire US voting-age population, rather than only citizens. Because Asian and Hispanic residents tend to have lower citizen rates in the US, their population voting rates are significantly lower than their citizen voting rates.
In 2016, for instance, although 49% of Asian citizens voted, only 34% of the total Asian population voted. Similarly, only 33% of the Hispanic population voted, while 47% of Hispanic citizens voted.
Voting rates also vary significantly by age, with young voters typically voting at lower rates than older voters.
The gap between senior and youth voting rates has consistently remained above 20%. In 2016, for example, 68% of seniors cast a ballot, while only 39% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 voted.
Voting and registration rates vary widely by state.
In the 2016 election, Washington, DC, Maine, and Wisconsin had the highest citizen voting rates at 74%, 73%, and 70%, respectively. Tennessee, West Virginia, and Hawaii had the lowest citizen voting rates, at 54%, 51%, and 47%, respectively.
While registration rates and voting rates are typically closely correlated, the gap between the number of citizens that register to vote and the number that ultimately cast a ballot is larger in some states than others. For example, in West Virginia, 64% of the population was registered to vote in 2016, but only 51% voted. On the other hand, 76% of Wisconsin citizens were registered to vote that same year, and 71% of citizens turned out to vote. Indeed, many of the states with the highest overall turnout also have the lowest gap between voter registration and voter turnout.
Different states also have varying rates of voting by race and ethnicity.
Note: The chart above does not depict all races in all states. This is because the Census cannot accurately estimate the voting rates if a race’s population in a given state is less than 75,000. Also, this data set does not contain data on people who identify as Native American. While the Census data does report voting rates for most demographic populations in states, the margin of error on some of these estimates may be high due to the small sample size.
Many states follow the national trend: white non-Hispanic voters turnout at slightly higher rates than the state’s overall citizen population, whereas voters of other demographics turnout at lower rates. However, the gap between the overall voting rate and the voting rate of certain demographics is smaller in some states than the national average.
In Wisconsin, 71% of the overall citizen population turned out to vote, but only 45% of the Black population turned out to vote in 2016. In Washington state, Kansas, and Connecticut, Black voters also turned out to vote at significantly lower rates than the overall citizen population. In Kentucky and Colorado, however, Black citizens voted at higher rates than the overall citizen population in those states. The gap between the overall voting rate and voting rate by demographic is even more noticeable for Hispanic and Asian voters in several states, such as in Minnesota, where the overall turnout rate was 69%, but the Hispanic turnout rate was 37%.
Age trends also differ across states. In Michigan, 64% of the citizen population turned out to vote in 2016, but only 38% of citizens aged 18-24 did. In some states, such as Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, there is a less pronounced gap between youth voting and overall voting rates.
For more information on how Americans vote, explore this report on voting methods and state vote-by-mail policies.
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