Have you ever wondered how many eligible voters actually vote in Presidential elections, and whether the voting percentage is higher or lower today than it was, say, 40 or 100 years ago? In other words, were American voters more engaged in the past than they are today?
If you look at the statistics, you will conclude that people have become increasingly complacent about voting. Four years ago, just 55.5% of eligible voters actually made it to the polls, which was higher than the 54.9% who voted in the 2012 election. From 1900 through 2016, the turnout percentage was generally in the low to mid-50s, and in 1996 the turnout dipped to 49%.
That almost tied the record lows of 1920 and 1924, when 42.9% and 48.9% of voters cast their ballots. At the other end of the spectrum, the modern record eligible voter turnout was 62.8% in the contentious 1960 election.
These percentages pale in comparison to the voting turnout in the more engaged 1800s, when it was routine for more than 70% of eligible voters to cast their ballots. Record years like 1840 (80.2%), 1860 (81.2% when somebody named Abraham Lincoln was heading up the Republican ticket), and 1876 (81.8%) were only a tick higher than the high-70s voter participation rates in the elections of 1844 (79.8%), 1856 (78.9%), 1868 (78.1%), 1880 (79.4%), 1884 (77.5%), 1888 (79.3%) and 1896 (79.3%).
Does that mean today’s voters are less engaged than Americans were back in the 1800s? Not necessarily. We cannot discount voter suppression of otherwise eligible minority citizens during much of the 20th century as a factor in lower voter turnouts, and there have been credible allegations of suppression attempts all the way up to the current election as well. This election cycle, which has attracted widespread engagement on both sides of the political spectrum, will be an interesting test to see if today’s voters can challenge the record voting percentages of the 1800s, and maybe start a new trend in voter participation.
As of November 2nd, 2020, 97 million Americans have already voted prior to election day, which is 2/3rds of the total votes cast during the previous 2016 presidential election: a good sign towards increased voter participation.
This article was written by an independent writer for Brewster Financial Planning LLC and is not intended as individualized legal or investment advice