2020 turnout is the highest in over a century

Vote counting continues, but most states have already hit new high marks

How 2020 compares to other high-turnout presidential elections

As a share of the voting-eligible population

Published on 

More Americans voted in the 2020 election than in any other in more than 100 years. Over 65 percent of the voting-eligible population cast a ballot — a figure that will increase as more votes are tabulated.

The figures have shattered previous highs, including in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated John McCain, and in 1960 when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon.

Records from 1980 have been surpassed in states. Another are projected to reach at least 40 year highs once all votes are tallied. Only states do not look like they will end up with record-breaking turnout.

Turnout not on pace
to break 40-year record

Turnout was especially high in many battleground states, where expectations of a close contest appeared to boost voter participation. Texas broke its 1992 record by over five percentage points, despite continuing to restrict access to mail-in ballots. Turnout in Minnesota reached nearly 80 percent.

[Democrats gained in nearly every battleground state, running up margins in cities]

The projection for where this turnout could end up is based on estimates of how many votes are still to be counted, from The Post’s own modeling and that of Edison Research. If this projection holds, 2020 turnout will be the highest since 1900, when 73.7 percent of eligible Americans cast ballots.

But America had a much smaller voting pool over a century ago. Women did not yet have the right to vote, nor did Asian Americans and many Native Americans. The most recent change to federal eligibility requirements was in 1971, when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.

Being eligible to vote didn’t necessarily mean being able to vote. Millions of African Americans had the federal right to vote throughout the 20th century but Jim Crow laws, intimidation and even violence meant, in practice, they couldn’t.

Expansions to the American electorate have often caused turnout to fall, and American’s highest-turnout years were all in the 19th century. 2020 won’t set the all-time record, but as final 2020 results trickle in, it could end up the highest in living memory.

Emily Liu and Daniel Hoerauf contributed data analysis.

About this story

Turnout figures are based on historic and current estimates from the U.S. Elections Project of citizens age 18 and over who are eligible to register and vote, and of ballots cast. The 2020 vote totals are from Edison Research. For states with few ballots reported, turnout is based on early ballots cast reported by the Associated Press.

Kevin Schaul is a senior graphics editor for The Washington Post. He covers national politics and public policy using data and visuals.
Kate Rabinowitz is a graphics reporter at The Washington Post. She previously worked at Propublica. She joined The Post in 2018.
Ted Mellnik explores and analyzes data and maps for graphics, stories and interactives.