Clinton-Trump Showdown: Historic Voter Turnout Likely

Photo by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

The validity of that phrase will be reinforced by millions of voters this fall, should Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump secure their respective party nominations.

In case you’ve been living under a rock over the past year, Democrats (and many Republicans, for that matter) can’t stand Trump, and Republicans can’t stand Clinton. These sentiments transcend the usual respectful disagreement — it’s pure disdain, even venturing into the depths of hatred.

The proof? On one side, we all know people who are already looking at sublets in Vancouver. On the other, even after Clinton’s congressional testimony on Benghazi, the cries for indictment persist as loud as ever.

The result? Enormous voter turnout, but not for reasons we’re accustomed to.

In 2008, Obama’s optimistic vision for hope and change translated to 58.2% of the voting age population (VAP) showing up to vote. In 1992, Bill Clinton’s similar optimistic, forward-thinking campaign helped precipitate a 55.2% figure. In 1960 — the year JFK was elected — a whopping 62.8% turned out.

The 2008 and 1992 turnout levels are two of the three highest since 1968, whereas 1960 represents the pinnacle in the last 60+ years. These elections saw such impressive turnout figures because so many people were mobilized to vote for one candidate.

This year, however, we’re going to see the opposite phenomenon. Millions of usually indifferent citizens are going to show up at the ballot box to vote against Clinton or Trump. And what’s going to make the totals so impressive is that both sides of the aisle will be mobilized to do so. In 2008, 1992 and 1960, it was Democrats who showed up en masse to support Obama, Clinton and JFK. In 2016, voters of both parties will show up en masse to ensure the other candidate doesn’t get elected.

We’ve never seen anything quite like this before, so the exact turnout figure is difficult to project. That said, it’s reasonable to expect the highest level since 1968, a similarly chaotic election cycle which resulted in 60.8% VAP casting ballots.

A second factor is also at play. The resounding success of the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns in attracting fresh faces to the political process will translate to high general election turnout, even if Sanders isn’t on the ballot. Millions of previously disenfranchised and disengaged citizens are now immersed in this election cycle, and although all won’t vote if their candidate isn’t on the ballot, some certainly will. In Sanders’ case, the youth have been mobilized — a key historic indicator of strong turnout in November.

Turnout during this cycle’s primary season has been robust as is. Some have surmised voters not enamored by Clinton or Trump will abstain from voting this fall, but let’s be honest, most people have strong enough reservations about one of the two to show up on November 8 to prevent that candidate from taking office. After all, the President of the United States is a somewhat important position.

2016 has already been the wildest election cycle since 1968. It’s only fitting that voter turnout in the general election will approach ’68 levels.