No, Voter Turnout Did Not Change the Election

I’ve seen several media outlets claiming that Trump only won because of reduced voter turnout — even though voter turnout was up 0.4% from 2012. The argument goes that turnout was down in some key areas and among some key demographics. In addition, this idea that there was a “white surge” while minority races stayed home also seems to be rubbish. I mean, states like Florida and Texas saw a YUGE increase in turnout where there are large Hispanic populations while whiter states like Wisconsin saw reduced turnout. This also simultaneously debunks the intellectually bankrupt theory that Trump won because of racism — he won in spite of racist overtures. In fact, demographically white Wisconsin was one of only five states were fewer voters turned out in 2016 than 2012.

In Florida, Trump captured 454,000 more votes than Romney while Clinton gained 267,000 votes over Obama.

By contrast, Wisconsin saw an overall drop in voter participation, and was one of only two states in which Trump won despite receiving fewer votes than Romney did in 2012 (the other was Mississippi, which Trump took in a landslide).

I thought that it would be interesting take an extreme case just to see if voter turnout changed the election (just to satisfy the critics). Let’s look at the 10 states where the difference between the two candidates was under 5% points. Any margin of victory beyond that could not be overcome with turnout alone.


As the above graph demonstrates, only little Wisconsin saw a drop in voter turnout. We don’t know the political views of those who stayed home. It could be that they had no preference, and thus didn’t vote, meaning that their votes would cancel each other out, giving Trump the states anyway. But let’s assume that every single voter that never showed up to vote would have cast a ballot for Clinton.

This is a completely insane proposition because it means that Alaska would have gone Democrat in 2016. Yes, that’s right, a state that repudiates Hillary Clinton more often than the Democrats would go for Clinton in 2016. The only time Alaska ever voted for the Democratic presidential candidate was 1964 when they voted against the wishes of Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidate she was campaigning for, Goldwater, and instead went with Johnson. That’s how much Alaskans don’t like Clinton. Or maybe they weren’t thinking straight after dealing with the massive 9.2 earthquake. Or maybe that just like Johnsons. I know a few of them in Alaska, and they seem like nice people. After all, they voted in high numbers for Gary “where’s Aleppo” Johnson who managed to capture 5.9% of the Alaskan vote. Only New Mexico and North Dakota beat that.

Making the crazy assumption with the 10 closest states gives Wisconsin to Clinton, but that still means Trump ends up with 296 electoral votes, 26 more than he needed.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that poor voter turnout did not give Trump the victory.

Another one making the rounds is this idea of a whitelash: “Trump enjoyed a huge increase of white supporters.”

Again, the data does not show this. Trump did see a huge increase in supporters from poor whites, but this was more than offset by middle and upper-class whites. Overall, Republican support among whites was down while Republican support among blacks, Hispanics, and Asians was up.


One more note: Trump lost ground in Arizona and Texas, while gaining huge in Florida at the same time. I wonder if it’s the case that Mexican Latinos preferred Clinton while Cuban Latinos preferred Tump. Trump never made insulting comments about Cubans (Mark Cuban aside), and Cuban Americans are more apt to want the US to be tough with the types of oppressive foreign governments like the one of which they’re most familiar.

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