Outlier: The 2020 election’s peculiar vote data

By Michael Schisler

The presidential election of 2020. For many it’s still a concern. Well, actually, for pretty much everybody it’s still a concern.

It’s no secret that more than half the nation still thinks there were catastrophic issues with integrity in 2020.

And everyone else thinks that Trump’s ongoing legal troubles, predicated by the prosecution’s declaration that he surely knew he lost and therefore his claims about 2020 constitute incitement to insurrection, are fully justified and must be pursued to fruition.

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So, election 2020 is still a national problem. And it isn’t going away any time soon.

There is an absolute gluttonous supply of opinions to be read on the matter, yet virtually no hard facts in the form of digestible data anywhere to be found. So digestible data is exactly what this article is all about.

Here’s the fundamental question the nation needs to answer: “Does the election data support Trump’s accusers, or does it support him?” And the data is ready to testify if we give it the opportunity, so let’s dig in.

In the modern election era (1956 forward, all 50 states participating), there have only been five elections (out of 18 studied) where the percentage of the total U.S. population that voted either increased or decreased by more than 5.2%. (Note that for contextual purity purposes, the percentages used are of the entire U.S. population, not eligible voters.)

In 1984, the percentage of citizens voting increased a hefty 11.7%. This was the year of Reagan’s epic win of 97.6% of the electoral vote and him securing a staggering 44.9% greater popular vote total than his opponent Walter Mondale.

After significant outliers, all of the metrics examined resumed trend the next election cycle.

The next outliers appear in 1992 when the percentage of citizens voting increased a sizeable 9% for Bill Clinton’s first term victory. This was also the first election that popular third-party candidate Ross Perot participated, and it appears that Perot attracted a large number of new voters.

Interestingly, the percentage of citizens voting in the following election plummeted by 13.1%, and most of this is attributed to Perot’s vote total crashing by an astonishing 59% his second time around.

While the data for 1992 and 1996 has distinct outliers, they reflect the presence of three candidates receiving meaningful numbers of votes instead of the usual two. And election metrics were back on trend in 2000.

The next outliers occur in 2004 when Bush Jr. was reelected, defeating John Kerry. The increase in the percentage of citizens voting was a massive 11.8%. And this was on top of a 5.2% increase the previous election (2000 Bush Jr. vs. Gore).

Furthermore, Bush improved his own vote total in 2004 by a whopping 23% over his previous win, which in turn was 6.4% better than Bush’s 2000 improvement over the 1996 winner’s total. Yet Bush only managed to outpace Kerry’s vote total by 5.1% in 2004, and actually had a lower popular vote total than Gore in 2000.

For perspective, Reagan improved his vote total in his epic second victory by only a single percentage point more than Bush’s 23%. But Reagan outpaced Mondale’s vote total by an astronomical 44.9% compared to Bush’s 5.1% outpacing of Kerry.

If these numbers are legitimate, it means that an extraordinary number of people became new voters during the Bush years. But with 9/11 occurring in Bush’s first term, a well-documented renewed national sense of patriotism also occurred.

For 2008 through 2016, only on-trend increases and decreases in the metrics examined are seen, with no outliers. This may be surprising to some, given the loser’s claims about the 2016 election.

Then we have 2020, Biden vs. Trump.

The outliers in this election cycle will be described as “unprecedented” if they are both record setting numbers within the modern election era and also have outlier characteristics.

An all-time U.S. record-shattering 47.8% of all Americans were recorded as casting their legal vote in 2020. This represents an unprecedented 14.6% increase over the previous election.

For perspective, 2008 is the second-highest on record with only 42.6% of all Americans voting in the Obama vs. McCain election. This represents a below average 2.9% increase over the previous election.

For context, the average percent of citizens voting in the modern era is about 38%. For elections in year 2000 and later, the average is slightly higher at about 40% (excluding the outlier 47.8% recorded for 2020).

In 2020, Biden was awarded an unprecedented 29.1% more votes than the previous the election winner (Trump 2016).1.

For perspective, Obama’s 2008 winning total was 12% more votes than the previous election winner (Bush 2004), while the second-highest increase in the modern era was Reagan’s epic victory of 1984 at 24% over his own previous total.

An all-time U.S. record of 158,376,434 total votes were recorded in 2020. This is an unprecedented 17.6% increase over the previous election.

For perspective, total votes recorded in 2008 Obama vs. McCain were a 6.9% increase over the preceding election. Reagan’s epic 1984 victory saw a 15.9% increase.

Other notable re-election stats with outlier characteristics:

In his re-election bid of 2012, Obama underperformed his first term vote totals by -5.1% yet won his bid for re-election. Obama is the only president in all of U.S. history to underperform his first term vote totals by any amount, yet secure a second term.

In 2020 Trump outperformed his first term vote totals by 17.9%, which is the fourth-highest outperformance in the modern era, behind only Nixon, Reagan and Bush Jr. (who all won), yet Trump lost his bid for re-election. Trump is the only president in all of U.S. history to outperform his first term vote totals by any amount and lose his re-election bid.

Disclaimer Notice: The data presented in this article was computed from raw election stats and commonly available population data on a good faith basis. However, the accuracy of the source data, computations and statements made are not guaranteed, and for legal purposes should be considered opinions of the writer.

1 Richard Nixon’s 1972 Watergate era vote total was 48.4% greater than his 1968 election total, which was -26.3% compared to 1964. These wildly swinging percentages are due to large numbers of votes going to third-party candidate George Wallace in the 1968 election, rendering the percentages for these years incompatible for comparison to later elections.

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