The Edit


protestors protesting police brutality with blue and red filters over the image to look like american flag

Is this autumn’s US Presidential election the most crucial for a generation? We think it is, and that makes voting more essential than ever. However, according to the United States Election Project, a staggering 46.9% of eligible voters didn’t vote in the 2016 election. That translates to between 100 and 117 million people – what effect could those ‘missing’ votes have had on the outcome – and who wasn’t voting?

The Guardian reported after the 2016 Presidential election that ‘three in four US adults didn’t check a box in November to say they approve of the president-elect [Donald Trump]’. Out of 250 million adults in America, Trump received around 63 million votes. More than 65.8 million voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump, however, won the Electoral College vote by 304 votes to 227.

However, as the report from the Pew Research Center quoted by Fortune made clear, the ‘nonvoters in 2016 had just as much to do with establishing the Trump presidency as actual voters.’

In fact, as this map from shows, if ‘Did Not Vote’ had been a candidate in the 2016 US Presidential Election – it would have won by a landslide.

Only eight states and Washington DC had enough voter turnouts where one of the candidates won more votes than people who did not vote – Trump claimed Iowa and Wisconsin, whilst Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Washington DC voted for Hillary Clinton.

Overall, CNN confirmed that voter participation dropped to a historic low in the past two decades – with only 55% of Americans going to the polls. The Pew Research figures showed that ‘there are striking demographic differences between voters and nonvoters, and significant political differences as well. Compared with validated voters, nonvoters were more likely to be younger, less educated, less affluent and nonwhite. And nonvoters were much more Democratic.’

reasons to vote

Black voter turnout declined sharply – by 7% - in 2016, for the first time in 20 years. And in fact, the racial and ethnic diversity of voters didn’t grow for the first time since the 90s – despite the fact that the overall eligible voting population was the most racially and ethnically diverse ever. In 2016, minorities made up a larger share of nonvoters – 34%, up from a quarter in 2012.

The Pew Research analysis showed that a ‘dislike of the candidates or campaign issues’ given as a main reason for not voting reached a new high of 25% in 2016 (in 2012, only 13% cited this as their primary reason). The second highest reason given for not voting was a lack of interest, or ‘a feeling that their vote wouldn’t make a difference’ (15%), whilst being too busy or having a conflicting schedule, or having an illness or disability (12%) were also given.

reasons to vote

The Census Bureau also asks eligible voters who didn’t turn out to vote why not. While white Americans are five times more likely than Black Americans to say they didn’t vote because they ‘did not like candidates or campaign issues’, Black voters are more likely to cite obstacles to voting. Poll closures and limited voting hours, together with transportation problems, are the major blockers.

For example, in 2016 in North Carolina, there were 158 fewer early polling places in counties with large Black communities, and African American vote participation was down 16%. However, among Black nonvoters, 19% said they didn’t vote because they didn’t like the candidates or campaign issues – again a dramatic increase from just 3% in 2012, when then-President Barack Obama was on the ballot.

Other factors identified by Pew’s research are that voters were much more highly educated than nonvoters – adults with only a high school education constituted half of nonvoters, compared with 30% among voters. Nonwhites without a college degree were far more numerous among nonvoters (at 42%) than they were among voters (19%). Differences in income between voters and nonvoters are also stark – more than half (56%) of nonvoters reported annual family incomes under $30,000, whilst among voters, just 28% were in that income category.

Young voters aged 18-29 were the only age group reporting increased turnout in 2016, compared with 2012; however, the highest turnout was for citizens of 65+ (70.9%), and of the 4.6 million additional voters in 2016 (compared with 2012), 3.7 million were aged 65+ . 

So, if you’re eligible, why should you vote? Here are our top 10 reasons to make sure you have your say on 3rd November.

  1. Voting gives you the power to decide how the country is run – from healthcare to Covid, employment to gun violence and climate change 
  2. Without voting, your voice won’t be heard: you’ll have had no say over who’ll be making decisions on the issues important to you 
  3. Want to make a positive impact? Vote! Supporting the candidate that can help your community, state and, ultimately, country, can lead to change. is a great resource if you want to stay educated on local elections 
  4. Still think your vote doesn’t count? In 2000, the election came down to a Florida recount; if just 600 more pro- Al Gore voters had gone to the polls, George W Bush wouldn’t have become president 
  5. Texas might not have become part of the United States in 1845 if one US Senator had voted differently. The vote in the US Senate was 27-25 to invite Texas to become a state. If it had been a tie, Texas would not have been asked to become part of the Union
  6. Vote to defend your personal social agenda – politicians make laws that protect or restrict social freedoms, such as LGBTQ+ rights, civil rights and abortion rights 
  7. Vote to save the world – lobbying efforts are strong on all sides of the environmental issue. Stand up for what you believe by voting 
  8. Vote for the next generation – today’s decisions will have an impact on our children and grandchildren. Teacher Maggie Blackwell in Fort Wayne told, ‘I need to remember that even if I’m tired and have 1,000 things to do, I have this duty to vote. The kids in my classroom now are the ones who will be benefiting from a better future. They are 15- and 16-year-olds. I’m voting for my youngest brother who can’t vote [because he’s not yet 18]. If I ever have kids, I’m voting for them.’ 
  9. Voting rights, particularly for people of colour and women were hard fought for – don’t take your privilege for granted 
  10. And finally, democracy as a whole depends on voting – so use yours! 

And remember, you can vote early – the inaugural Vote Early Day campaign is launching on 24th October. In the last election around 40% of Americans voted early, so get to know your options and don’t have ‘too busy’ as a reason not to vote this year.


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