Release Date: November 12, 2020
BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the final ballots of the 2020 presidential race are counted, the undisputed winners of the election are the voters, says Jacob Neiheisel, PhD, associate professor of political science at the University at Buffalo.
The hotly contested race for the White House saw record-breaking participation with 161 million voters (and counting), as well as a projected turnout percentage not seen in more than 100 years.
Neiheisel, an expert on campaigns and elections, voter turnout and other issues, says this level of involvement is encouraging but it may not continue depending on future candidates and partisanship levels, as well as if states continue to offer mail-in ballots and other forms of convenience voting.
The turnout is a good sign for future elections
“I don't think that there is any way that this election doesn't bode well for voter turnout in the future. We know that voting is habit-forming, so once someone has cast a ballot, they tend to be more likely to do so in the future,” he said.
‘Negative partisanship’ boosts turnout
“This election probably brought quite a few “peripheral” voters (and non-voters) off the bench and into the polling booth. Although we won’t know for sure until after the data are analyzed, it also seems likely that many voters were motivated by ‘negative partisanship’—support for a candidate or party that is driven by hatred for the other candidate or party,” he said.
Voting convenience a factor in higher participation
“That being said, this was a hard-fought, closely-contested election that saw the introduction of a lot of new ‘convenience’ reforms to the way in which we vote. To the extent that future contests produce less in the way of interest or see less in the way of different forms of convenience voting – like early voting and liberalized absentee ballot requirements – we might expect that 2020 will exist as something of a high-water mark for the foreseeable future. Competitiveness matters, as do the campaigns themselves and the electoral institutions that govern how we vote,” he said.