Polling News

What’s Up (Or Down) With Turnout in 2016?  

March 03, 2016

What’s Up (Or Down) With Turnout in 2016?  Turnout in this year’s fifteen Republican caucuses and primaries is up while turnout is down in all twelve of the Democratic contests for which comparisons are available (Democrats count their vote in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses in a way that makes cross-year comparisons impossible).

Republican turnout is up from 5.9 million in 2008 and 5.7 million in 2012 to 9.8 million so far, a 71.6% increase from 2012 and 65.5% from 2008.  Democratic turnout this year is 6.4 million, down 30.3% from 9.3 million in 2008, the party’s last nomination fight.  

Compared to 2012, Republican turnout is up in every state, ranging from 0.3% in Vermont, 14.3% in New Hampshire and 22.2% in South Carolina to 285.9% in Virginia, 166.8% in Arkansas, 130.5% in Minnesota, 128.2% in Nevada, and 95.4% in Texas.  

Some of these increases may come from contests being held earlier than in the past, spurring additional voters to come out.  And while some Donald Trump supporters are quick to claim he’s responsible for the increased turnout, the real reasons for it are more complex and less flattering to the celebrity real estate mogul.  

While Trump won the four states with the smallest percentage increases between 2012 and 2016 (Vermont, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Alabama), he lost three of the five states with the largest percentage increases (Arkansas, Minnesota and Texas).

There is plenty of evidence the increased turnout is caused by the contest itself and not just one candidate.  Take Virginia, where turnout increased from 265,570 in 2012 to 1,024,913 this year.  While Trump won more votes this year (355,960) than turned out in 2012, so did Sen. Marco Rubio (327,042).  And Sen. Ted Cruz’s total of 173,193 was roughly two-thirds of 2012’s total turnout.  In Texas, even if all of Trump’s 757,618 votes came from only newly energized first-time voters that would explain just over half of the increased turnout.  Clearly, something is at work here besides one candidate’s appeal.

The turnout points to an enthusiasm gap between the parties.  In the twelve states where both parties report count the vote the same way (this excludes Iowa and Nevada), 9.6 million Republicans and 6.5 million Democrats voted this year.  This is an increase from 2008 for Republicans of 4 million and a decrease for Democrats of 2.8 million.  The GOP contest has drawn more voters while Democratic enthusiasm about their field and nomination battle is considerably more muted than in 2008.

And while more Democrats turned out than Republicans in eleven of twelve contests in 2008 (Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia), this year Democrats have outnumbered Republicans only in three (Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont).

Each party’s turnout through Super Tuesday is summarized below.

  Republicans            
State 2008 2012 2016 Chng 08-16 %age08-16 Chng 12-16 %age12-16
Iowa 119,188 121,501 186,874 67,686 56.8% 65,373 53.8%
New Hamp 234,851 248,475 284,120 49,269 21.0% 35,645 14.3%
SoCarolina 445,677 603,770 737,917 292,240 65.6% 134,147 22.2%
Nevada 44,324 32,961 75,216 30,892 69.7% 42,255 128.2%
Alabama  552,155  622,514  856,166 304,011 55.1% 233,652 37.5%
Alaska  13,703  13,219  21,930 8,227 60.0% 8,711 65.9%
Arkansas  229,153  152,360  406,522 177,369 77.4% 254,162 166.8%
Georgia  963,541  901,470  1,292,601 329,060 34.2% 391,131 43.4%
Mass  500,550  370,425  631,395 130,845 26.1% 260,970 70.5%
Minnesota  62,828  48,916  112,755 49,927 79.5% 63,839 130.5%
Oklahoma  335,054  286,523  459,542 124,488 37.2% 173,019 60.4%
Tennessee  553,005  554,573  854,445 301,440 54.5% 299,872 54.1%
Texas  1,362,322  1,449,477  2,832,234 1,469,912 107.9% 1,382,757 95.4%
Vermont  39,843  60,850  61,013 21,170 53.1% 163 0.3%
Virginia  489,252  265,570  1,024,913 535,661 109.5% 759,343 285.9%
   5,945,446  5,732,604  9,837,643  3,892,197 65.5% 4,105,039 71.6%

 

 

  Democrats      
State 2008 2016 Chng 08-   12 %age08-12
New Hamp 287,557 250,983 -36,574 -12.7%
SoCarolina 532,468 369,526 -162,942 -30.6%
Alabama  536,635 398,164 -138,471 -25.8%
Arkansas 314,234 218,120 -96,114 -30.6%
Georgia 1,060,851 761,218 -299,633 -28.2%
Mass 1,258,923 1,204,927 -53,996 -4.3%
Minnesota 214,066 191,647 -22,419 -10.5%
Oklahoma 417,207 335,554 -81,653 -19.6%
Tennessee 624,764 371,082 -253,682 -40.6%
Texas 2,874,986 1,433,908 -1,441,078 -50.1%
Vermont 154,960 134,571 -20,389 -13.2%
Virginia 986,203 782,895 -203,308 -20.6%
   9,262,854  6,452,595 -2,810,259 -30.3%
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