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Voter Turnout in the 2020 Presidential Election – How Many People Will Vote?

By Jennifer Hassan in Politics
| October 29, 2020 5:54 am PDT
How Many People Will Vote in the 2020 Presidential Election?

I remember being taught about American politics in second grade. We learned about the White House, the powers of the president, and the checks and balances system between the legislature (Congress), judiciary (the court system), and the executive branch (the president).

We were also told at this time that every vote counts, and that a single vote has the power to determine the next president.

We were not taught about the electoral college, and that every vote a person casts is only a suggestion to the state’s electors on how they should vote. And that it is these electors (538 across all 50 states) who actually determine the president.

Voters in 2016 voted for Hillary Clinton, but the electors voted for Trump, and Trump ended up in the White House.

Because of this shock to the American understanding of “citizens vote for the president,” many voters gave up, resolving not to bother casting their ballots anymore.

Four years later, here is what the polls are telling us about the voting turnout numbers this year.

If you’re interested, you can actually bet on the voter turnout. It’s one of the many presidential election prop bets available right now.

Current Estimates on Voter Turnout

people standing in line to vote

Despite long, slow voting lines, composed of weary but determined voters, the early voting turnout has been staggering.

Out of the 240 million eligible US voters, some polling sources estimate that close to 150 million will vote in the presidential election this year.

That may seem low; after all, that leaves 90 million eligible voters out of the equation. However, that has always been the case; voter turnout in any given presidential election year tends to hover between 50% and 60%.

CNN speculates that 2020 could be the highest voter turnout in 100 years. In 1960, huge numbers turned out to cast their ballots in the JFK/Nixon race.

However, when the presidential race is not as contentious as it was in 1960, and as it is now in 2020, apathy can set in and voters may stay home and simply watch the results instead of contributing to them.

Some Voters have Lost Hope

Many pundits attribute this to a world-weary belief by many US citizens that the system is corrupt, and that the popular vote doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Modern candidates are trying to change that. President Trump is to be thanked for getting many more millions of voters to the polls in this election year.

His supporters are eager to keep him in office, and his detractors are equally eager to wait in even the longest lines to prevent a replay of the past four years.

States are Changing Their Beliefs

US News and World Report tells us that there are more swing states than ever. It is in these states that candidates will exert the most pressure, persuasion, gladhanding, and fearmongering, working to bring every undecided voter possible to their party.

This news source suggests that there is some possibility of Biden winning 375 electoral votes, a staggering number.

However, we have seen political upsets in the past, so this prediction is by no means a guarantee of Biden taking that many electoral votes, or even taking the presidency. (Remember, analysts gave Hillary Clinton a 90% chance of winning the presidency in 2016.)

Because of so much uncertainty in how certain swing states will vote, the election feels “up in the air.” This feeling—the idea that no one candidate is a shoo-in—will help get voters to the polls, since they won’t feel like the election has already been decided without them.

Reasons Given for Not Voting

staying at home instead of voting

It’s fair to say that there are some people who are simply too lazy to vote and are happier at home watching TV.

But there are also (seemingly) legitimate reasons why people may choose not to vote, too.

If one candidate appears to be steamrolling the other and carrying a huge margin in their favor, there are voters who feel it’s pointless voting for either candidate.

If they favor the candidate who is ahead, they may rationalize that “they don’t need my vote to win. They are already ahead by so many points that my vote won’t make a difference.”

If they support the losing candidate, they may figure, “What can one vote do?”

And yet, if people were aware of how many staggering political upsets there have been in the history of US presidential elections, they would know that it is never over until all available votes are counted.

(Unless your brother is the governor of a state that seems to have misplaced some votes, propelling you into the presidency. However, this is Trump v. Biden, and not Bush v. Gore, so there are no conveniently-placed brothers this time around.)

Pre-Voting Numbers

According to USA Today, upwards of 70 million US citizens have already voted, and there is still nearly a week to go before election day. The newspaper notes that around 140 million US citizens in total cast their ballots in the 2016 election.

Thus, the fact that half that number have already voted gives credence to the prediction that in this voting year of 2020 we will see record numbers of voters turning out to cast their ballots.

There are around 240 million eligible voters in the US. Sadly, in many presidential election years just over half of these voters cast a ballot.

When Clinton faced Papa Bush, there was a 58% voter turnout. When Obama faced McCain, a record 61% of American voters turned out to participate in the election.

There is speculation that in 2020, the turnout numbers could create a record high.

Voter Suppression and Intimidation

According to one poll, one reason given for not voting is an inability to access a convenient voting station.

This appears to be an issue in 2020 as there have been modestly-substantiated rumors in the press that one candidate doesn’t want the poor and the rural and the disenfranchised to vote, as members of these demographics are more likely to vote for his opponent.

President Trump has encouraged members of the Republican Party to monitor polling places. State governors have responded to the implicit promise of voter intimidation by issuing promises to their voters that no intimidation on election day will be allowed to occur within their state boundaries.

These threats of intimidation are credited with getting so many voters to turn out early and cast their ballots before the frenzied pressure of election day.

Tampering with the Mails

The US Postal Service has reverberated with accusations of suppressing votes, by slowing down mail processing efficiency.

Slowing the mails will affect rural voters as they attempt to get their ballots in on time.

This appears to be one method of voter suppression that is poised to have an impact on the 2020 election.

A Last Word Before November Third

Political analysis company Ipsos tells us that folks surviving on the lowest incomes are most likely to avoid voting. So are young adults between 21 and 35 years old.

Common sense tells us that these groups are the most likely to feel powerless, and that talks of tax loopholes and foreign policy are not likely to feel pertinent to people who know how much one bag of groceries costs, and who are focused entirely on getting that one bag into the house every week.

The truth is that these are the people most impacted by unemployment rates, China embargoes (as the cost of goods skyrockets), and anti-immigration policies (which increase the price of food).

However, given the estimates for this year’s election numbers, more voters than ever are feeling inspired to cast their ballots, even if it is more difficult than ever to actually enter a polling place and making oneself heard.

And if this 2020 election seems like the “end of the world” to you, be aware that there are already odds being placed on who will win the 2024 US presidential election. Remember, “this too shall pass.”

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