Voter Registration and Turnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The demographic makeup of the 2020 electorate differed greatly from the makeup of the 2016 electorate as the country saw increased registration and turnout among multiple voting blocs. Though these increases benefitted both Republicans and Democrats, the gains for Democrats were greater, propelling President Biden to victory.
Voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election reached 67% according to recently released census data, more than a five-percentage point increase from 2016. Voter registration similarly peaked at 73%, a nearly three percentage point increase from the previous presidential election. 2020 also exhibited the smallest gap between turnout and registration in recent history of only six percentage points.
This registration and turnout surge occurred among both Republican and Democratic voting blocs across both red and blue states. States won by Joe Biden experienced a greater overall turnout increase than those won by Donald Trump, illustrating the impact of the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort.
In 2020, female voters had a turnout rate of 68%, 3.4 percentage points higher than male voters who historically have lower turnout than women. More educated populations also had higher turnout with individuals with some level of college experience averaging 77% turnout while those with no college experience averaged just 45% turnout. 53% of Democratic voters did not hold a college degree compared to 68% of Republican voters, demonstrating President Trump’s appeal to lower-educated voters, particularly whites without a college degree.
Despite controversy over the reliability of mail-in and absentee voting, a plurality of voters chose one of these options. 43% of voters voted by mail with four in ten mail-in voters having done so for the first time in 2020. Mail-in and early voting were most popular among Asians, Hispanics, and individuals 65 and older. 58% of Biden voters voted by mail or through an absentee ballot compared to just 32% of Trump voters. Meanwhile, 30% of voters voted in person on election day, and 26% voted in person before election day.Non-voters cited multiple reasons for not casting a ballot this past election with the most popular reasons being a lack of interest in the election at 18% and a dislike of the candidates at 14%. Additionally, 4% of non-voters expressed concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Historically, older people have voted at higher rates than younger people, and 2020 was no different. Turnout of young people (18–24-year-olds), however, jumped in 2020 by over eight percentage points from 43% in 2016 to 51% in 2020. An NBC exit poll suggests that 65% of these individuals voted for Joe Biden and data from the Pew Research Center found that 49% of Biden’s voters were younger than 50. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation made up only 44% of the electorate, a decline of six percentage points from 2016. These results indicate that Gen Z is a critical group of voters for the Democratic Party and may hold more sway in future elections if their turnout numbers continue to increase.
Racial minorities similarly experienced higher turnout in 2020 with Blacks turning out at 63%, Asians at 59%, and Hispanics at 54% averaging a six-percentage point increase in turnout among minority voters from 2016. President Trump continued to make strides among Hispanic voters, increasing his
Hispanic vote share from 28% in 2016 to 38% in 2020 according to recent Pew Research data. Turnout among these groups is becoming increasingly important as minority populations continue to grow throughout the United States and are predicted to exceed the white population in America by 2044 according to census projections.
The 2020 election was unprecedented for many reasons, but the historic voter registration and turnout rates arguably had the greatest consequences in shaping the outcome.