In the 1824 U.S presidential election, which was the first where a popular vote was used to determine the overall winner, approximately three percent of the U.S. population voted in the election, while only one percent actually voted for the winner. Over the following decades, restrictions that prevented non-property owning males from voting were gradually repealed, and almost all white men over the age of 21 could vote by the 1856 election. The next major development was the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution following the American Civil War, which granted suffrage to all male citizens of voting age, regardless of race. Turnout then grew to almost twenty percent at the turn of the century, however Jim Crow laws played a large part in keeping these numbers lower than they potentially could have been, by disenfranchising black communities in the south and undoing much of the progress made during the Reconstruction Era.
Extension of voting rights
Female suffrage, granted to women in 1920, was responsible for the largest participation increase between any two elections in U.S. history. Between the 1916 and 1920 elections, overall turnout increased by almost seven percent, and it continued to grow to 38 percent by the 1940 election; largely due to the growth in female participation over time. Following a slight reduction during the Second World War and 1948 elections, turnout remained at between 36 and forty percent from the 1950s until the 1990s. Between these decades, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in 1971 respectively re-enfranchised many black voters in the south and reduced the voting age in all states from 21 to 18 years old. Participation among female voters has also exceeded male participation in all elections since 1980.
The 1992 election was the first where more than forty percent of the total population cast ballots, and turnout has been above forty percent in all presidential elections since 2004. Along with the extension of voting rights, the largest impact on voter turnout has been the increase in life expectancy throughout the centuries, almost doubling in the past 150 years. As the overall average age has risen, so too has the share of the total population who are eligible to vote, and older voters have had the highest turnout rates since the 1980s. Another factor is increased political involvement among ethnic minorities; while white voters have traditionally had the highest turnout rates in presidential elections, black voters turnout has exceeded the national average since 2008. Asian and Hispanic voter turnouts have also increased in the past twenty years, with the growing Hispanic vote in southern and border states expected to cause a major shift in U.S. politics in the coming decades.
In terms of the most popular presidents, in the 1940 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to have been elected by more than one fifth of the total population. Three presidents were elected by more than 22 percent of the total population, respectively Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1972 and Barack Obama in 2008, while Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984 saw him become the only president in U.S. history to win with the support of more than 23 percent of the total population. While the vote count for the 2020 election is still to be finalized, President-elect Joe Biden has already received 81.28 million votes as of December 02, which would also translate to over 24.5 percent of the total population, and will likely near 25 percent by the end of the counting process.
Share of the total population who voted, and those who voted for the winning candidate, in U.S. presidential elections from 1824 to 2020
Voted for winning candidate
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This data was mostly calculated using population data from Fairvote, and election results from ProCon. 2016 figures were calculated using population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and voting results from 270towin.com.
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ProCon, & 270towin.com, & US Census Bureau, & United States Elections Project, & FairVote. (January 4, 2021). Share of the total population who voted, and those who voted for the winning candidate, in U.S. presidential elections from 1824 to 2020 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1140011/number-votes-cast-us-presidential-elections/
ProCon, und 270towin.com, und US Census Bureau, und United States Elections Project, und FairVote. "Share of the total population who voted, and those who voted for the winning candidate, in U.S. presidential elections from 1824 to 2020." Chart. January 4, 2021. Statista. Accessed November 26, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1140011/number-votes-cast-us-presidential-elections/
ProCon, 270towin.com, US Census Bureau, United States Elections Project, FairVote. (2021). Share of the total population who voted, and those who voted for the winning candidate, in U.S. presidential elections from 1824 to 2020. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: November 26, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1140011/number-votes-cast-us-presidential-elections/
ProCon, and 270towin.com, and US Census Bureau, and United States Elections Project, and FairVote. "Share of The Total Population Who Voted, and Those Who Voted for The Winning Candidate, in U.S. Presidential Elections from 1824 to 2020." Statista, Statista Inc., 4 Jan 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1140011/number-votes-cast-us-presidential-elections/
ProCon & 270towin.com & US Census Bureau & United States Elections Project & FairVote, Share of the total population who voted, and those who voted for the winning candidate, in U.S. presidential elections from 1824 to 2020 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1140011/number-votes-cast-us-presidential-elections/ (last visited November 26, 2022)