New voters surge in 2020 election


More than 16 million voters who did not cast a ballot in 2016 have already voted this year, a sign that record-high enthusiasm in November’s elections will lead to an unprecedented turnout across the country.

There are indications that the surge is being fueled by younger voters who have been targets of turnout operations funded by Democratic groups, and by minorities who are motivated to vote like never before, data experts keeping tabs on the early numbers say.

Already this year, more than 4 million people between the ages of 18 and 29 have cast a ballot after sitting out 2016. They represent about two-thirds of all voters in that age bracket who have voted already. In states where voters can register by party, registered Democrats among those youngest voters outnumber registered Republicans by a nearly three to one margin.

“The central through thread from all of our conversations with young people throughout the year and the polls, whether ours or anyone else’s, [is that] they are more motivated to vote than ever before,” said Ben Wessel, executive director of NextGen America, a group funded by Tom Steyer that works to turn out younger voters. 

In Florida, more than 335,000 voters between 18 and 29 who did not vote in 2016 have voted so far. Half of those voters are registered Democrats; about a quarter are registered Republicans.

In Texas, which does not register voters by party, more than 2 million people who didn’t vote in 2016 have already voted this year. That includes more than 430,000 Hispanic voters, 140,000 African American voters, and 600,000 people under age 30.

More than 700,000 Georgia voters who did not vote in 2016 have already cast ballots. Almost a third of those voters are African American, and nearly 30 percent are under 30 years old. 

Across the nation, 4.7 million voters have voted for the first time this year. Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost half a million, though nearly two-thirds of that group are not affiliated with a party or live in states that do not register by party. Forty percent of those first-time voters are under 30 years old, Bonier’s data show.

“You see younger voters make up a larger share of the early vote electorate than they did in 2016 just about everywhere,” said Tom Bonier, chief executive at TargetSmart Consulting, which tracks early vote data.

There are anecdotal signs of a younger voter surge, too: One precinct in San Marcos, Texas, that covers the campus of Texas State University, surpassed the total number of votes cast in 2016 over the weekend, nine days before Election Day. Half of all registered voters in Johnson County, Iowa, home of the University of Iowa, have already voted. 

But, Bonier said, it is not only younger voters who are turning out in higher numbers. Millions of seniors who did not vote in 2016 have cast ballots; to date, more seniors who have college degrees have voted in nine battleground states than voted in all of 2016, either before or on Election Day.

Black seniors have been an especially strong growth market this year. More Black voters over the age of 65 have voted in Texas and Georgia than voted in all of 2016.

“There are actually a lot of seniors who stayed home in ’16, which is not something we really focused on,” Bonier said. “When you look at the non-2016 seniors who have voted already, they’re more Democratic than the inverse, seniors who have voted already who did vote in 2016.”

If there are warning signs for Democrats, they may come from the huge number of non-college white voters who are casting ballots, a group at the core of President Trump’s base. Like other groups, those voters have turned to early options in record numbers.

Nationally, more than 29 million non-college whites have cast their ballots. They represent a lower share of the electorate, 46 percent, than at this point in 2016, 52 percent. But in raw numbers, those voters are still the largest cohort in the electorate, edging college-educated white voters by a margin of nearly 9.5 million.

Some Democratic strategists warned that minority communities, and especially the Black community, is lagging behind in a key state like Florida. Several groups, funded or run by luminaries like the actor Tyler Perry and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum (D), are running special drives to get those Black voters to the polls.

Four years ago, President Trump won Florida on the strength of unprecedented turnout among rural white voters who rarely cast ballots. This year, those voters are showing up again, a promising sign for Trump’s hopes of keeping his adopted home state.

“There’s a disparity when you start cutting the data by race. You’ve got new and sporadic white voters who are turning out on both an absolute and percentage basis more than communities of color,” said Josh Mendelsohn, who runs Hawkfish, a political technology firm founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “African American and Hispanic, Latino turnout just isn’t tracking with the same positive momentum. That’s an area of concern, and I don’t think it can be avoided.”

The pandemic coupled with both parties’ campaigns to get their most ardent supporters to vote early has led to a surge in early votes across the nation, and across demographic groups. Through Wednesday morning, more than 74 million Americans had already cast their ballot, according to the United States Elections Project, run by University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald. 

That represents more than half the 138.8 million ballots cast during the entirety of the 2016 election cycle.

Tens of millions more people will still wait until Election Day to vote, the turnout experts said. Polls show Republican voters, especially, are more eager to vote on Election Day itself, perhaps a reflection of President Trump’s rants against mail-in voting — and in spite of his own campaign’s efforts to get Republican voters to vote early.

As Democrats build a lead in early votes, they are digging a hole from which Trump must extricate himself on Election Day. His path to a majority remains possible, but it becomes more complicated by the day.

“There is logically some level of election day turnout for Republicans that allows them to still win this thing,” Bonier said. “It’s just that as this early voting advantage continues to pile up, that becomes more and more implausible.”

Comments