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.
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