Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
24 October 2020updated 28 Jul 2021 5:44am

What record levels of voter turnout could mean for the US 2020 election

More ballots have already been cast in Texas than were cast in that state for Donald Trump alone in 2016.

By Emily Tamkin

Turnout for the 2020 election could be the highest in a century. This week, with election day still more than a week away, Texas has already reached almost 60 per cent of its turnout from four years ago. More ballots have already been cast in Texas than were cast in that state for Donald Trump alone in 2016. And that’s just Texas: around 30 per cent of the total number of votes in the 2016 election have already been cast.

That doesn’t necessarily mean good news for either candidate. In states that report party registration of voters, 52 per cent of votes have been cast by Democrats. But we can’t say for sure that all of those votes will be for Joe Biden, just as we can’t say that, even if they were, Trump wouldn’t catch up on election day itself (Trump has predicted a “red wave” on 3 November).

We also don’t know why, exactly, early voting is so high. It could be because people are wary of queueing in a large crowd on election day, or because, as I wrote in my column for this magazine, the memory of 2016 means voters don’t trust the polls. At the time of writing, the New Statesman election prediction model gives Biden an 88.3 per cent chance of winning. Yet the New York Times gave Hillary Clinton more than a 90 per cent chance of winning the election in 2016.

In 2016, the polls didn’t capture rural support for Trump, which is a phenomenon that should now have been corrected for. Also, the FBI head Christopher Wray has, so far, not announced an investigation into Trump’s opponent mere days before the election, as James Comey did into Clinton’s emails in late October 2016. (Trump is reportedly considering firing Wray for not being more helpful politically.) Still, Clinton is not currently president, and the average American or analyst can be forgiven for wondering if polls tell us much as a result.

But here’s what high early turnout does tell us: people are voting. Despite the challenges of voting in a pandemic and despite Trump’s admitted attempts to keep the US Postal Service from being able to deliver mail-in ballots, millions of Americans have already found a way to cast their votes. There may be few reasons to feel good about American democracy at present, but surely this is one.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy