New Center for American Progress Report Examines Turnout and Voting Patterns That Led to 2016 Election Result

The unprecedented and largely unanticipated election of Republican candidate Donald Trump as president of the United States in 2016 set off intense debates about how his victory was achieved and which factors mattered most in determining the outcome. Although Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won a plurality of the national popular vote—48.2 percent—with a nearly 3-million vote margin, Donald Trump carried 30 states and won the Electoral College vote by a 304-to-227 margin

New Center for American Progress Report Examines Turnout and Voting Patterns That Led to 2016 Election Result

A voter fills out his ballot with his two small children, November 2016 \ AP/Matt Volz

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress examines vote composition, turnout, and party support rates by demographic group to get a more precise read on the 2016 vote, with the resulting data frequently quite different than major media outlets’ Election Day national exit polls. The report offers critical insights into emerging strategies of both Democrats and Republicans going forward.

The biggest difference between the exit polls and CAP’s data on vote composition lies in the division of white voters, specifically the divide between those who are college-educated and those who are not college-educated. CAP’s analysis finds that exit polls radically overestimated the share of white college-educated voters and radically underestimated the share of white non-college-educated voters. While the exit polls claimed that white college graduates actually outnumbered non-college-educated white voters at the polls in 2016, 37 to 34 percent, CAP’s data indicate a vastly different story: White college graduates were only about 29 percent of voters, while their non-college-educated counterparts far outdistanced them at 45 percent of voters. CAP’s analysis also found that, compared to 2012, while black voter turnout fell more than 4 points from 62.1 percent to 57.7 percent, the turnout of Latinos and Asians or other races both went up modestly, in each case by about 2 points—from 44 percent to 46 percent for Latinos and from 47 percent to 49 percent for Asians or other races.

“While there’s been an active debate about what would have changed the 2016 election results, it’s vital that we first get the story right about what happened. The real story of the 2016 election has major implications for both parties and their political strategies looking towards 2018 and 2020,” said Rob Griffin, director of quantitative analysis for CAP’s Progressive Studies team.

CAP’s analysis also looks at the story in the states, including Trump’s close victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as well as his larger margins of victory in Florida, Iowa, and Ohio. The report also looks at three important states where Secretary Hillary Clinton improved Democratic performance relative to 2012: Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. The authors also explored two simulations that could have changed the presidential election result: if black turnout and support had stayed at their 2012 levels and if white non-college-educated support had stayed at its 2012 levels. Both would have produced Electoral College victories for Secretary Clinton.

CAP’s analysis combines a multitude of publicly available data sources, including the American Communities Survey (ACS), the November supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS), the American National Election Study (ANES), the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES), CAP’s own postelection polling, and voter files from several states. The analysis breaks down the U.S. population into 32 demographic groups made up of four racial categories—white, black, Latino, and Asian or other race; four age groups—18–29, 30–44, 45–64, and 65+; and two education groups—people with a four-year college degree and people without a four-year college degree.

Click here to read “Voter Trends in 2016: A Final Examination” by Rob Griffin, Ruy Teixeira, and John Halpin.