2020 Election On Course for Highest Turnout in Over a Century

According to the U.S. Elections Project, a nonpartisan website run by Michael McDonald, a professor of Political Science at the University of Floriday, initial election estimates show that the 2020 election has the highest voter turnout in 120 years. According to the project, at least 160 million people cast their vote – or 66.9 percent of all eligible voters. Only around 137 million voted in the 2016 election – nearly 56 percent.

According to historical data, that means that more people have voted in this election than in any since 1900, when Republican William McKinley ran against William Jennings Bryan. In that election, 73.2 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote.

According Time Magazine, political polarization and anger around Donald Trump’s policies drove a higher turnout. According to experts, similar polarization around the incumbent in 1828 drove voters to turn out in large numbers to elect Andrew Jackson. Jackson had lost the election in 1824 in a four-way race so close that the House of Representatives had to decide the election.

Election turnout remained high until 1900, after which it dropped sharply. Reforms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries obsensibly to limit corruption also kept people of color and immigrants eligible to vote from heading to the polls. Jim Crow laws across the South such as poll taxes and literacy tests enforced unequally against Black citizens made it even more difficult.

According to the Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History, states such as New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Indiana implemented procedures making registering to vote more difficult. In New Jersey, new laws requiring residents to register to vote in person resulted in the state’s voter turnout falling from 82.4 percent in 1908 to 69.1 percent in 1912.

However, that trend seems to be changing. Since 2000, the number of voters turning up to vote has been increasing. A combination of political polarization and grassroots efforts to inform voters on the importance of certain issues is increasing political engagement – which is what ultimately drives people to the ballot box.

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