Polling News

How Does The 2016 Voter Turnout Pattern Compare To Past Primaries?

March 10, 2016

So far, 12.4 million Americans have voted in Republican presidential caucuses and primaries so far.  Donald Trump leads with 4.3 million or 34.9% of the total, compared to 8.1 million or 65.1% for the rest of the field.  So how does this pattern compare to past primaries?

Obviously, there is a long time to go before the primaries end on June 6, but given the frontloading of the contests this time, there have already been 23 caucuses and primaries so far.  At his stage, Trump has a smaller percentage of the total vote – 34.9% – than any previous GOP presidential nominee.  

John McCain in 2008 is the only candidate in nearly four decades to end the primary season with less than a majority of the votes cast, taking 47.3%.  The GOP’s nominees have ranged from 52.1% of the vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 to 62% for George W. Bush in the 2000 open race for the GOP nomination to 72.8% for the contested re-nomination of George H.W. Bush in 1992 (both Reagan in 1984 and Bush 43 in 2004 scored almost 99% in their uncontested re-nominations).    

Here’s a chart showing by year the total turnout (in millions) and the raw vote (again in millions) and share of the turnout for the top three finishers in each contested Republican nomination battle since 1980 (there were only two significant candidates who received votes in the 1992 race). 

Year    Total           First                                 Second                              Third            
    
1980    12.9    Reagan 7.7 (59.8%)         Bush 3.1 (23.8%)             Anderson 1.6 (12.2%)

1988    12.1    Bush 8.3 (67.9%)             Dole 2.3 (19.2%)              Robertson 1.1 (9.0%)

1992    12.7    Bush 9.2 (72.8%)             Buchanan 2.9 (23.0%) 

1996   15.3    Dole 9.0 (58.8%)              Buchanan 3.2 (20.8%)      Forbes    1.8 (11.4%)

2000    19.4    Bush 12.0 (62%)             McCain 6.1 (31.2%)          Keyes 1.0 (5.1%)
        
2008    20.9    McCain 9.9 (47.3%)        Huckabee 4.3 (20.4%)      Romney 4.7 (22.5%)

2012    19.2    Romney 10.0 (52.1%)    Santorum 3.9 (20.4%)        Paul 2.1 (10.9%)

2016    12.4    Trump 4.3 (34.9%)          Cruz 3.6 (28.8%)               Rubio 2.4 (19.3%)
Partial

It will be interesting to see if in the remaining contests, Trump gets enough votes to end with a majority of the total votes cast.    If he does not, it could be a warning signal about the general election unity of the GOP.

 

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