A record 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall voter turnout – defined as the share of adult U.S. citizens who cast ballots – was 61.4% in 2016, a share similar to 2012 but below the 63.6% who say they voted in 2008.
A number of long-standing trends in presidential elections either reversed or stalled in 2016, as black voter turnout decreased, white turnout increased and the nonwhite share of the U.S. electorate remained flat since the 2012 election. Here are some key takeaways from the Census Bureau’s report, the data source with the most comprehensive demographic and statistical portrait of U.S. voters.
The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012. The 7-percentage-point decline from the previous presidential election is the largest on record for blacks. (It’s also the largest percentage-point decline among any racial or ethnic group since white voter turnout dropped from 70.2% in 1992 to 60.7% in 1996.) The number of black voters also declined, falling by about 765,000 to 16.4 million in 2016, representing a sharp reversal from 2012. With Barack Obama on the ballot that year, the black voter turnout rate surpassed that of whites for the first time. Among whites, the 65.3% turnout rate in 2016 represented a slight increase from 64.1% in 2012.
The Latino voter turnout rate held steady at 47.6% in 2016, compared with 48.0% in 2012. Overall turnout remained flat despite expectations heading into Election Day of a long-awaited, historic surge in Latino voters. Due largely to demographic growth, the number of Latino voters grew to a record 12.7 million in 2016, up from 11.2 million in 2012. Even so, the number of Latino nonvoters – those eligible to vote who do not cast a ballot, or 14 million in 2016 – was larger than the number of Latino voters, a trend that extends back to each presidential election since 1996. Meanwhile, the Asian voter turnout rate increased to 49.3% in 2016, up from 46.9% in 2012 and surpassing Hispanics for the first time since 1996. Asians continue to represent a smaller share of voters than Hispanics: Overall, about 5 million Asians voted in 2016, up from 3.8 million in 2012.
Yet black and especially Latino voters were the most engaged voters in the polls, time after time. If you factor in GOP voter suppression, these numbers make a lot more sense, particularly in states that passed voter suppression laws after 2013. Those resulted in rock-bottom turnout for midterms and halted or completely reversed presidential election turnout model growth for both groups.
It worked so well, Donald Trump won.