U.S. Presidential Election 2016: Voter turnout drops to near 50 per cent

Sunlight shines through a window onto a voting booth at a polling place. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

About half of eligible Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, early results suggest, a much lower turnout than expected.

Based on votes counted by early Wednesday, approximately 124 million people cast a ballot for the next president.

Republican candidate Donald Trump became president elect early Wednesday morning, capturing the 270 electoral college votes needed to claim the White House.

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Turnout totals will likely fluctuate in the coming days, but with about 241 million people of voting age in the United States (200 million of those were actually registered to vote in this election), the number is likely to settle somewhere around the 51 or 52 per cent mark.

“I don’t think it’s terribly surprising,” said Donald Abelson, professor and chair in the department of political science at the University of Western Ontario.

“Democrats tend to do well when there’s big voter turnout, so that could have helped.”

Part of Trump’s strategy, he added, was telling voters that it’s OK if they don’t vote for him, as long as they didn’t vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Part of their thinking was, ‘Let’s turn off a lot of voters so they don’t even want to vote.'” Abelson said of the Trump campaign.

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The turnout story was different in individual states, however. CBS News reported that turnout in the critical battleground of Florida was the highest ever recorded in American history, for instance.

Registration was also up, and an election-day poll  suggested that Trump and Clinton had spurred more people to vote for the first time.

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Tuesday’s turnout is therefore lower than expected given the hype and controversy surrounding the election, but it was not at all unusual in the grand scheme of things.

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In 2012, 129.1 million people voted for the next president — a turnout of around 53.6 per cent. But the pattern goes much further back.

America’s general elections have produced remarkably similar turnout rates since the 1970s, with an unusual spike (131.3 million voters) when Barack Obama first took office in 2008.

For the most part, turnout has long been stuck somewhere in the 50s.

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Canada, meanwhile, boasted a turnout rate of just over 68 per cent for last fall’s federal election, the highest in two decades.

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Experts have blamed a number of factors for stagnant turnout in the U.S., including (but definitely not limited to) the challenges of registering to vote.

The federal government doesn’t automatically register voters south of the border, and individual states have differing laws for registration.

If you live in Minnesota, for example, you can actually register on election day, but in many other states you have to sign up well in advance.

As Abelson suggested, there may also have been a greater degree of voter apathy or disillusionment with both major candidates this time around, leading millions of Americans to stay home.

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