Election 2016

Close to Two Million Actual Voters Ignored the Presidential Race

Even when they voted, more people bypassed the main event than usual.

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Trump and Clinton
Piero Oliosi/Polaris/Newscom

We already know that one of the predictable consequences of having two unpopular major party candidates—Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—led to poor voter turnout (when presented as a percentage of the voting population).

One of the post-election "Why Clinton lost" narratives was that the campaign didn't have as good a ground game in pivotal states as they needed. Somehow her unpopularity as a candidate didn't properly register with some party insiders and they didn't get out the vote the way they needed to.

Philip Bump over at the Washington Post has another interesting piece of data that could maybe help us understand the consequences of running these two against each other. They tallied together vote totals in 33 states and Washington, D.C., and determined that more than 1.7 million people in those states cast ballots where they did not select any presidential candidate at all. Not only did they ignore Trump and Clinton, they also waved away Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein. This works out to two percent of the total number of votes. More people cast their vote for no president at all than voted for Stein. And given that there's some states left out of the analysis, the real number is actually higher.

Bump also compared these numbers to 2012 and discovered that the percentage of voters who declined to select a candidate for president dramatically increased in many states between the two elections. States like Montana, Arizona, and even Democratic stronghold California saw a significant number of voters decline to vote for president compared to 2012.

Be wary of comparing too closely though and drawing too strong a conclusion. First of all, we're talking about the difference in a re-election in 2012 versus two new candidates in 2016. It is entirely possible that a number of these voters sat out the 2012 race entirely. Flat turnout for the 2012 election was lower than for the 2016 race. Furthermore, in some states, California in particular, voters had many important ballot initiatives to consider. Sometimes there's a good reason for some voters to go to the polls even if they are not impressed or just don't care about the presidential candidate.

But there's still an important lesson for campaign operatives, if they can stop looking for other people (and countries) to blame for Clinton's loss. Bump notes: "In several states, the number of people who didn't vote was near or greater than the eventual margin of victory."

Several of those states were swing states. One of those states was Michigan, where more than 75,000 voters did not cast a choice for president. That would have been more than enough to have handed Clinton the state if only one-seventh of them had cast a ballot for her, Bump notes.

I'm not remotely interested in trying to teach the Democratic establishment how to run better campaigns and win elections. Rather, I'm much more interested in how these numbers represent the disconnection between voters and the people demanding their support.

I previously noted how 1.2 million California voters, given only the choice of two Democrats and nobody else, cast ballots but didn't vote in the race to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate. Those were the early vote returns. I went back and checked out the final numbers and it's even higher: 2.2 million Californians voted for president but not a senator.

It's perhaps worth suggesting that when voters feel disconnected from politicians with self-serving backgrounds like Clinton and a from a system that is deliberately designed to limit choice yet still call it a "popular vote," it helps contribute to the environment for the kind of populist uprisings we've seen with Trump and Bernie Sanders. And the result may be the implementation of some really bad public policies, so it's worth figuring out how counter this trend rather than to blame it on Vladimir Putin.

Check out the Post's chart and info here.

NEXT: A better discussion of intellectual diversity in the (legal) academy

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  1. More people cast their vote for no president at all than voted for Stein.

    Ouch.

  2. NOTA. The real winner in this election.

    1. Woot. There were 22 write-ins in my district. Stein received 21.

    2. Has NOTA been Wo/Man of the Year yet?

  3. According to my liberal betters, this year the Hamilton Electors are all that really matter and it is the height of patriotic responsibility for them to reject the winner of the electoral vote and rebel from the individual state vote totals by electing someone other than Trump.

    If you don’t you hate your country or something. USA!

    1. Why would that be such a bad thing? More people prefer her to be President than Trump. Why subvert the popular will?

      1. the American Socialist will now explain to you why the tyranny of the majority isn’t really a thing.

        Go to it AS! Please edumacate me.

        1. Don’t you think that an American system with voters so credulous that they would believe that HRC was running a kiddie porn ring out of John Podesta’s favorite yum-yum pizza shop has bigger problems that upgrading the Norton Antivirus on government computers Won’t solve?

          1. …an American system with voters so credulous…

            Fixed.

          2. Yes, AS, if only we had a group of men……Top Men, one might call them…….to decide everything for us.

            You could call it a Politburo or something like that, right?

            TOP. MEN. AND MAYBE ONE WOMAN. AND A DUDE WITH A TURBAN FOR GOOD MEASURE.

            What could possibly go wrong?

            1. The obvious benefits of a dictatorship of the proletariat would be that we could put anyone who thinks that millions of illegals voted for KKKlinton into a reeducation camp. That would be nice, no?

              1. Man, you fascists have the most disgusting fantasies.

                1. Can I guess what you do for employment? You’re in the military. Thank you for defending my freedom.

                2. Dear commentariat,

                  What do you do when someone calls you a fascist in response to a comment that anyone other than a screeching Trumpster would take as a joke?

                  1. Wow, a fascist and a crybaby. That almost never happens!

                    1. Ten-hut Soldier,

                      That whole dictatorship of the proletariat thing was sarcasm. It’s point was to express derision at idiots who think millions of Mexicans voted in California to (/sarc) deny glory to the bestest business man in the World, Donald Trump(sarc). I’m apologize that I didn’t put the /Sarc tags around the joke, but I thought people would get it. (/sarc) Sorry, man (sarc)

            2. Sounds like the Board of Directors in Hudson Hawk.

          3. Pretty sure no one of any consequence believes that. Nice strawman though. What about those who believed in her actual, documented, provable crimes and lies, not to mention the dozens more that have never been proven, but are very likely true?

            Your candidate is a felon, ten times over, with no qualifications to the presidency other than riding her husband’s coat tails there. Who’s credulous?

            1. You mean Jill Stein? Yeah, she painted on that pipeline I guess.

              1. Jill Stein’s only crimes I’m aware of are doing the Democratic Party’s dirty work (recounts) and the murder of good taste (90’s folk band Somebody’s Sister).

      2. More people preferred not Clinton to Clinton. More people preferred not Trump to Trump.

        I say we try 4 years without a president at all and see how that goes.

        1. Somalia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SOMALIA!!!!!!!!!!

          /prog

        2. Maybe we should just not have a United States. That’s the page I’m working off now.

          1. Maybe you should live in a more socialist country?

            The US isn’t going anywhere dummy.

          2. All the individual states go off and do their own things, scheduling another get together in four years?

        3. People have always preferred not Clinton. Trump received a higher percentage of the popular vote than Clinton did in 92.

      3. As far as I know, any number of votes aren’t counted in the so-called popular vote totals, so you’re assuming facts not in evidence.

  4. I’m not remotely interested in trying to teach the Democratic establishment how to run better campaigns and win elections.

    Liar!

  5. So then Hillary was denied two million votes.

    Fact.

    1. Don’t forget the voters who were so uninspired they only voted for Hillary once.

      1. Podesta angered the Catholics enough that the Church exorcized all the usual dead voters whom the Democrats raise on Election Day to pad the totals!

  6. How about the number of registered voters who didn’t vote at all? What about the number of eligible citizens who didn’t even register?

    Majority rule my ass. We don’t even have that, let alone a representative republic.

    1. I came to say this.

      Also, “mandate” my ass.*

      *Ha.

      1. What is it, around 100 million who didn’t vote? Ye gods. Yeah, and that goes for Obama, Bush, et al. Probably similar percentages for Congress, if not worse.

    2. 136,496,584 total votes, according to what comes up first on google. Which is well under half the population. And I would guess under half of eligible voters.

      1. Doing some simple math from the numbers at the CNN link on turnout provided in the article modified by the number you mentioned and the two million abstentions mentioned in the article, around 60% of eligible voters participated in the election.

    3. Continuing on my theme of having it both ways… the Democrats are constantly going on about getting the poor and less educated to the polls on election day.

      According to the Democrats, they did just that and voted for Donald Trump.

      Next thing you know, the Democrats will be claiming the election was rig…

      President Obama orders probe after CIA concludes Russians rigged election for Donald Trump

      … well ok then.

  7. I feel that for many people, this race was a bad candidate vs. scary, unpredictable candidate, and many just decided to not take part in choosing either path. I understand the reasoning; if both paths turn out to be catastrophically awful, it’s human nature to not want to take responsibility for either outcome.

  8. 1.7 million people in those states cast ballots where they did not select any presidential candidate at all.

    I’m peanut butter and jealous.

  9. I was one of the empty Presidential votes in Pennsylvania, so I enjoyed this article.

    Of course, I didn’t vote for any of the other races either.

    1. So did you only vote for the ballot initiatives?

      1. Nope. I didn’t vote for the initiative either. My ballot was completely blank.

        1. I haven’t had to do that yet. I’ve turned in ballots with votes for no people before, but there’s virtually always one important proposition on every ballot here in California.

          It goes without saying that I voted for exactly one office this November given the disenfranchisement of the Top Two primary.

        2. Wait, you went to the precinct, and cast a blank ballot?

          1. On the day that there is nothing worth voting for, I will do that too.

          2. Yes. Casting a blank ballot makes it clear I am actively choosing not to vote rather than just being too lazy to show up at the poll.

            Also, I’m amused by how insanely angry some people get when I tell them I do that.

            1. People are so full of themselves. What does it matter if you vote NOTA across the board?

            2. If you don’t vote you are lumped in with the apathetics. A NOTA vote is an explicit ‘you suck’.

          3. Whenever I do that, I leave snarky messages in the write-in lines.

    2. Of course, I didn’t vote for any of the other races either.

      Not even the white hispanic?

  10. I chose not to vote at all this time. I’ve been pretty happy with that decision.

    Now I just have to figure out how to unregister so I stop getting annoying phone calls and mail.

    1. What state do you live in? There was an deregister link on my old state’s Secretary of State website when I moved a few years back.

    2. I was going to vote, but then I just said, “Too far.” and shredded my ballot*

      *thus denying Hillary Clinton my essence.

  11. I was one of the empty Senate votes in CA. Couldn’t bring myself to vote for either.

    1. Top-two system working exactly as designed, I see?

    2. Me, too. I also never vote when there is just one candidate.

  12. When it was likely there would actually be a recount here in Michigan, one of the reasons advanced was that there must be something wrong–‘look at how many ballots didn’t have a presidential vote!’

    Of course, those of us in the ‘a pox in both your houses’ camp thought ‘yeah, there’s something wrong–neither candidate was even worth a little round oval’.
    FWIW.

  13. Must be a result of misogyny.

  14. “even Democratic stronghold California saw a significant number of voters decline to vote for president compared to 2012.”

    Here in the Bay Area, these people are keeping very quiet, as they are considered to be worse than Trump voters.

  15. “And the result may be the implementation of some really bad public policies, so it’s worth figuring out how counter this trend rather than to blame it on Vladimir Putin.”

    Standing ovation. Can’t be said enough times. Perhaps once reality sinks in the Democrats will start to understand this point. Or double down on their unpopular policies and candidates, and therefore send Trump back to the White House in 2020.

    1. Perhaps once reality sinks in

      Based on the available evidence that should happen sometime within the next several thousand years.

      1. True, since Nadar is still being blamed for everything bad that happened after 2000, since he “cost” Gore the election.

        1. President Not My Fault is still blaming Bush for godsakes. Sad!

  16. And how many people voted for a POTUS candidate only because they thought their ballot would be invalidated if they left the POTUS part blank?

  17. Remember when the Big Story Of The Week was “OMG! Trump says he may not abide by the results of the election!! OMG!!!”

  18. didn’t have as good a ground game in pivotal states

    I always wonder, who are the people who are influenced by the “ground game?”

    You couldn’t browse the web or turn on a TV or radio without knowing that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were running for President and hearing all about both of them.

    For me, it was a foregone conclusion after Trump got the nomination that I’d vote for him.

    Are there people whose vote was really affected because they didn’t get enough flyers, door knockers and local newspaper, radio and TV ads?

    I’m not sure I want those people voting.

    1. “I always wonder, who are the people who are influenced by the “ground game?””

      Ground game means driving buses around town picking up every person you can find and taking them to the polls with the promise of a few bucks or free sandwich. Doesn’t matter if they are in the right precinct or not, because where this occurs is in areas that are 100% Dem, so the poll workers are fully onboard. If you’re in Philly, they’ll even have the Black Panthers outside keeping out Republican observers.

      Ground game also means having peeps walk around neighborhoods filling out voter registration forms for every warm body they can find, so they have a list of ‘legitimate’ names to stuff the ballot box with. See Detroit.

  19. “vote totals in 33 states and Washington, D.C., and determined that more than 1.7 million people in those states cast ballots where they did not select any presidential candidate at all”

    I don’t believe it. Turnout for mid-term elections is always well lower than presidential races. Are we to believe that 1.7 million people made the effort to go to the polls and not select a presidential candidate?. not even a third party or write-in? That beggars belief.
    It would seem far more likely this is evidence of fraud, not voter choice. There has always been anecdotes about machine issues with candidate switching and erasure. there are also plenty of conspiracies about Soros’s involvement with voting machines. For 1.7 million voters, I think fraud is almost certainly a large component of that tally.

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