How 2020 compares to other high-turnout presidential elections
As a share of the voting-eligible population
More Americans voted in the 2020 election — two-thirds of the voting eligible population — than in any other in 120 years.
This turnout shattered previous highs, including 2008 when Barack Obama defeated John McCain, 1960 when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, and 1908 when William Howard Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan. It is the highest turnout since 1900, when 73.7 percent of eligible Americans cast ballots.
Records from 1980 were surpassed in 42 states and D.C. (State-level data from earlier than 1980 was not available).
Turnout did not
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.
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 come close to an all-time record, but it’s certainly the highest in living memory.
Emily Liu and Daniel Hoerauf contributed data analysis.