Voting behaviour,turnout and gerrymandering (ed)

Evaluate the view that education is now the most significant determinant of voting behaviour in US presidential elections.

Evaluate the view that parties are no longer the most important influence on voting in US elections.

Evaluate the view that elections in the US are dominated by money.


Self Gerrymandering

In most states, because the redrawing of political boundaries is undertaken by state legislatures, it has led to widespread claims that the system is open to abuse from unfair partisan gerrymandering. Examples such as the Maryland 3rd district and the Illinois 4th 'earmuff district', connecting two Latino areas by a thin strip of land, have been criticised as a manipulation of the electoral system. Many states, such as California following the approval of Proposition 20 in 2010, have handed control to a redistricting committee. Indeed groups such as FairVote have called for Congress to pass a Redistricting Act, which would require state legislatures to appoint independent commissions.

So far the Supreme Court has declined to end gerrymandering and instead has left it to the states

Many experts believe that gerrymandering has contributed to the extreme polarization between political parties. 

It also has given the Republicans and advantage in recent election to state and federal legislatures.

Turnout / Abstention

Voter turnout peaked at 67% of the voting-age population in the 1960 election, then dropped in each of the following five presidential elections to 54.7% in 1980. Despite some minor increases, turnout declined to 51.4% in 1996. The subsequent three elections all saw increases in turnout, with a peak of 62.3% in 2008. However, there was a notable drop to 58.2% in 2012. Voter turnout was 59.2% in 2016 and increased to over 66% in 2020.

Turnout in US elections is one of the lowest of any western democracy, with turnout for the 2010 midterms standing at just over 41%. Reasons for this include:

·    The first-past-the-post system, along with the use of gerrymandering, creates safe seats in which a vote for certain party candidates is wasted. A system in which huge numbers of votes are not counted discourages people from voting.

·    The frequency of elections, which often take place all year round for various local, state and national posts, can lead to voter apathy. Similarly, the increasing length of election cycles, especially with the addition of invisible primaries due to frontloading, can lead to electoral boredom.

·    Registration procedures are difficult and present a further barrier to voting. Attempts have been made to simplify the process, for example with the 1993 Motor Voter Act, which allowed citizens to register to vote when applying for a driving licence. However, estimates suggest that universal voter registration would increase turnout only by between 8 and 10%.

·    The electorate's perceptions are important, with some highlighting how the system produces a lack of choice and is controlled by a wealthy elite with little hope for ordinary voters to change the system. Indeed, with turnout being less than 40% among the poorest fifth of the population, there is some weight to this argument.

Advocates for reform of the system thus propose an array of measures to tackle the problem. However, the main suggestion is for the implementation of a more proportional electoral system, such as national popular vote (NPV), followed by instant runoff voting (IRV) or preferential voting.

Election analysis  2016 New York Times

Election analysis 2020 Financial Times

Election analysis Pew Research

In 2016, the voter turnout for the presidential race reached 55.7% of the voting age population (VAP), approximately 87% of registered voters. Comparatively, the 2019 UK general election saw a turnout of slightly over 67%. Primaries generally experience lower turnout, often dipping below 30%, even in closely contested primaries such as the Democrats' in 2020. For example, in New Hampshire, a pivotal state, the turnout among eligible voters was approximately 26%. Turnout for the midterms is typically modest, with a 2014 turnout of about 42%. However, this rose to a 40-year high in 2018, signaling a possible shift from a consistent decline in turnout. The 2020 election marked another significant change, with turnout hitting a record 66.4%, peaking at 79.9% in Minnesota. This increase can be attributed to two primary factors: Donald Trump's polarizing presence motivated many liberal voters to oust him from office, while a slightly smaller group of conservative voters were equally driven to keep him in power. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic led several states to facilitate mail-in and early voting to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Swing States

Presidential election outcomes are primarily determined in swing states. Some states consistently lean Democratic, like Massachusetts, New York, California, and Illinois. Conversely, certain states reliably vote Republican, such as Texas, Georgia, Kansas, and South Carolina. However, swing states like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia can switch between Democratic and Republican candidates. Ohio has accurately predicted the election winner in the past 13 presidential elections since 1964. Campaign efforts are particularly concentrated in swing states. Prior to Election Day, Obama and Romney collectively visited Ohio 35 times, Florida 31 times, and Virginia 29 times between May and the election.

 Two-thirds (273 of 399) of the general-election campaign events in the 2016 presidential race were in just 6 states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan).94% of the 2016 events (375 of the 399) were in 12 states

Voting Behaviour


The Gender Gap highlights the tendency for women to lean towards the Democratic Party in voting behavior. Over the span of ten elections from 1964 to 2000, women consistently showed stronger support for Democratic candidates compared to men. For instance, in the 2000 election, Bush secured 53% of male votes but only 43% of female votes, while Gore received 54% of female votes and 42% of male votes. This gap was more pronounced in 1996 when women favored Clinton by 16 percentage points over Dole, despite men being evenly split between the two candidates. The gender gap slightly narrowed in the 2004 election, with Bush leading by 11 percentage points among men and Kerry by 3 percentage points among women. However, by 2008, the gender gap reemerged, and in 2012, Obama held an 11-percentage-point advantage among women, while Romney had a 7-point advantage among men. In the 2016 election, Trump garnered 42% of the female vote compared to Hillary's 54%, without experiencing a significant 'female surge', as Hillary's performance was only marginally better than Obama's. Trump also won 53% of the male vote against Hillary's 42%. Regarding policy stances, Democrats generally align with women on key issues such as abortion, defense, law and order, gun control, and women's rights. They support abortion rights, advocate for reduced defense spending, oppose capital punishment, and endorse gun control measures. Democrats have also championed initiatives like the Equal Rights Amendment, aimed at safeguarding women's civil rights. In 2012, Romney faced challenges with female voters following controversial remarks made by two Republican Senate candidates on rape. Additionally, Romney's clumsy reference to having received 'binders full of women' during his time as governor of Massachusetts further alienated many women, contributing to the perception that the Republican Party is disconnected from their concerns.

2020 Trump reassured suburban women that he would give their husbands jobs.- For many women this displayed his vert old fashioned view of women.

Trump to women voters: 'We're getting your husbands back to work'

Party Affiliation

On October 16, 2020, Gallup polling found that 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, 31% identified as Republican, and 36% as Independent. Additionally, polling showed that 49% are either "Democrats or Democratic leaners" and 45% are either "Republicans or Republican leaners" when Independents are asked "do you lean more to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party? 

Despite criticisms of US political parties' weaknesses, party affiliation appears to significantly influence voting behavior. In 12 of the 16 presidential elections from 1952 to 2012, the party that garnered the highest support from its members emerged victorious. For instance, in 2004, 89% of Democrats backed Kerry, while 93% of Republicans supported Bush. However, in 2008 and 2012, Obama secured 89% and 92% of the Democratic vote, while McCain and Romney clinched 90% and 93% of the Republican vote, respectively. Notably, in both elections, a higher number of Democrats voted compared to Republicans, negating the latter's slight edge.

Are independent- or swing voters the key?        -- Not always

Elections are often said to be decided by so-called 'independent voters'. In seven of the nine elections from 1980 through to 2012, the candidate who won the majority of the independent votes won the election. But 2012 was one of those two exceptions with Romney beating Obama amongst independent voters 50% to 45%. A poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation in July 2012 found that the one thing that independent voters were looking for from the two major parties was cooperation and compromise between them. When independent voters were asked, 'What's more important—parties sticking to their positions or cooperating across party lines, even if this means compromising?' only 24% of independents wanted the parties to stick to their positions whilst 70% wanted them to cooperate and compromise across party lines. When the same question was asked of self-identified Democrats and Republicans, the figures of those who wanted their party to compromise across party lines fell to 54% and 43% respectively. 

2016 Hilary won 89% of Democrats, Trump won 90% o Republicans. Trump won 48% of Independents and Hilary 42%


The racial groups that are most significant are African Americans and Hispanics. The reason for this is between 1980 and 2012, African Americans never gave less than 83% support to the Democrats. This makes them the most loyal and predictable of groups. President Clinton was said to have a particular affinity with African Americans during his presidency, and they were his most loyal group of supporters, especially during the difficult period of his impeachment and trial. With Barack Obama as the first African-American presidential candidate for a major party in 2008, the share of black people voting Democrat rose from 88% in 2004 to 95% in 2008. Black turnout was also up, accounting for 13% of the electorate in both 2008 and 2012 compared with 11% in 2004. But although black voters tend to overwhelmingly vote Democrat, they are not a monolith. According to a Pew Research Center study from January 2020, a quarter of black Democrats identify as conservative, and 43% as moderate.

A 2018 Harvard-Harris poll also found that 85% of black Americans favour reducing legal immigration, more than any other demographic - 54% chose the strictest options available, allowing fewer than 250,000 immigrants per year, or even say they want to no new immigrants at all.

In an article in the Los Angeles Times that same year, former diplomat Dave Seminara suggested this was because young black men in the US "often compete with recent immigrants for low-skilled jobs".

Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder Robert Johnson also voiced the frustration of black voters with the Democrats, when he told US broadcaster CNBC: "I think black Americans are getting a little bit tired of delivering huge votes for the Democrats, and seeing minimal return in terms of economic wealth and closing the wealth gap, job creation and job opportunities. Joe Biden was not an inspiring candidate for many black Americans." 

Although Biden was personally not appealing to black voters- having a record in the 1990s of support for tough sentencing and mandatory sentencing for drug offences which disproportionately affected black people and during an interview in 2020 he appeared to take the black vote for granted by saying a voter who voted Trump was not really black, they still overwhelmingly voted for Biden.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing group. According to the 2000 census, they formed 12% of the population, but by the 2010 census, this figure had increased to over 16%.  They are a young group and a significant proportion are not yet of voting age, their full political importance is yet to show. The states where Hispanics make up more than 25% of the population include California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Hispanics are a disparate group — from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as other Central American countries. Bush's Republican campaign in 2000 made a significant pitch for the Hispanic vote. Bush himself speaks fluent Spanish. His brother, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, is married to a Hispanic. The Republican vote among Hispanics increased significantly from 20% in 1996 to 31% in 2000 and to 43% in 2004. But in 2008, the figure was 31% and down to 27% in 2012, with Obama holding a 44-percentage-point lead amongst Hispanic voters in 2012. As Hispanics become a larger cohort within the voting-age population in future decades, they will become an increasingly important racial group for the two parties to attract.  2016 Trump won the White vote by a significant margin-58% to 37%.

There was no surge of Hispanic voters for Hilary- given Trump's plan to build a wall between Mexico and his assertion that Mexica sends its 'criminals' and 'rapists' to the USA, this might seem hard to explain. However, Reagan's remark that 'Hispanic people were 'natural Republicans' may help. 65% voted for Hilary and 29% for Trump. So Trump did better among Hispanics than Romney.

2020  Trump’s relative success with Latino voters, particularly in Florida and Texas, demonstrates the fallacy of treating broad racial groups as blocs. Latinos as a whole voted for Joe Biden by a margin of more than 30 points, but Florida’s anti-socialist Cuban community backed Mr Trump by 55 per cent against 42 for Biden. Latino voters shifted towards Mr Trump by around 8 percentage points nationally since 2016. Many Hispanics were impressed by Trump's conservative values, fear of socialism and delight in Trump's nomination of  anti-abortion judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. A 2017 Gallup poll, for example, found that 67% of Hispanic people said they worried a great deal or a fair amount about illegal immigration - higher than the proportion of non-Hispanic whites (59%) who answered the same way. 



Protestant voters typically support Republican candidates, consistently favoring them from Ronald Reagan in 1980 to Mitt Romney in 2012. Protestant Christianity is closely associated with the religious right, social conservatism, and the Bible Belt - a cluster of southern states from Texas to southern and central Virginia. On the other hand, Catholic voters have historically leaned towards the Democratic Party, showing strong support for Clinton in 1992 and 1996, as well as Gore in 2000. However, the Democrats' pro-choice stance on abortion can present challenges for Catholic voters, whose church strongly advocates a pro-life position. In 2004, Bush secured 52% of the Catholic vote against a Democratic candidate who was also Catholic. Despite this, the majority of Catholic voters returned to the Democratic Party in 2008 and 2012, with Obama leading by a 2-percentage-point margin among this demographic in 2012. White evangelicals place significant importance on Supreme Court appointments, making it a crucial factor in garnering their strong support. This group, more than any other, prioritizes the selection of strict constructionist judges.

 Jewish voters vote solidly for Democrats. They gave 78% support to Clinton in both of his elections and 79% to Gore in 2000. One might have expected a rather higher percentage in 2000, given that Joe Lieberman, Gore's running mate, was Jewish (the first Jew to appear on a major party's national ticket). The 69% vote by Jewish voters for Obama in 2012, however, was their lowest vote for a Democratic candidate since 1984, reflecting their unease about Obama's first-term policy positions towards Israel. Jewish voters, who typically strongly support the Democrat Party. American Jews are usually strongly liberal, sympathising with the less fortunate and with minorities, and support greater government assistance for those with low socio-economic status. Despite issues with Israel and Palestine, Jews are far more likely to say that Muslims in America are discriminated against compared to the general population. However, Jews only make up around two per cent of the population.

There is a continuing correlation between frequency of attendance at religious services and voting for Republican candidates. Those 2012 voters who attended a religious service more than once a week cast 63% of their votes for Mitt Romney, whilst amongst those who stated they never attended such services, only 34% voted for

Romney. Despite his Mormon faith, Romney gained the votes of 78% of white evangelical Christians, a higher percentage than John McCain had won in 2008.

2016.Trump won the Christian vote (Protestant 58% -39%) Catholics (52%-45%) It looks like they voted Republican values rather than Trump's values.

White evangelicals constitute one of the most pro-Trump religious segments in America. Exit polls in 2016 reported that 80% of White evangelical Christians voted for Trump; Gallup data show that 74% of White, highly religious Protestants now approve of the job Trump is doing (a good surrogate for intention to vote for Trump); and a recent Pew Research report estimated that 82% of White evangelicals would vote for Trump over Biden. 2020


In 2012, there was a clear connection between age and voting patterns. Younger voters tended to lean Democratic, while older voters were more inclined to vote Republican. President Obama found strongest backing among 18-29-year-olds, while Governor Romney's core support came from those aged 65 and above. This trend, similar to gender and race preferences, reflects the policy positions of each party, with Democrats appealing more to the younger demographic. Governor Romney criticized the Affordable Care Act provision that allowed individuals up to 26 years old to remain on their parents' health insurance as a 'gift' to young voters. In the 2020 election, President Trump secured the senior vote, albeit with a smaller margin compared to 2016. Overall, the data indicates that the 18- to 29-year-old group, traditionally Democratic, did not exhibit significant movement towards either party in 2020.


The gender gap may have widened in recent elections but the wealth gap has narrowed. It is not nearly as big as it was back in the New Deal period; not even as large as when President George H. W. Bush was elected in 1988. Then, the Republicans carried the highest income group by 25 percentage points — and the Democrats carried the lowest income group by the same margin.

In 2012, Obama did win those earning under $35,000 by 28 percentage points, but the disparity between the two candidates in other wealth groups was much less, with Romney's support increasing as personal income increased. As a rule, Obama had won the Wal-Mart/beer vote and Romney had won the Starbucks/wine vote. 2016 Hilary won fewer poorer voters than Obama. (53% 2016 63% 2012)

According to exit polling in the 2020 Presidential Election in the United States, 57 percent of surveyed voters making less than 50,000 U.S. dollars reported voting for former Vice President Joe Biden. In the race to become the next president of the United States, 54 percent of voters with an income of 100,000 U.S. dollars or more reported voting for incumbent President Donald Trump. 

Geographic region

Two significant voting trends are emerging based on geographic regions. Firstly, the Northeast has become the Democratic Party's new stronghold. The era of the Democrats' dominance in the South has faded, with the Northeast now being the party's main base. In the period spanning from 1984 to 2008, the Democratic Party candidate received the highest percentage of votes from the Northeast in all seven elections. In 2012, the Democrats emerged victorious in every northeastern state. However, the Democrats face a challenge as the Northeast is the only region experiencing a decrease in its share of the national population.

Second, the South has moved from being 'solid' for Democrats to being very Republican. This was shown most clearly when in 1996 the South was the only region in which the Democratic ticket of Clinton and Gore — both southerners — failed to beat the Republican ticket of Dole and Kemp, neither of whom was from the South. In 2000, the Republicans won every state in the South, including Gore's home state of Tennessee, and they did the same again in 2004. In 2008, Barack Obama managed to flip three southern states — Virginia, North Carolina and Florida — into the Democratic column. In 2012, the Republicans won back North Carolina, leaving Obama with just two southern states. However 2020 Biden took Georgia and narrowed the gap in Texas in S Carolina.

Biden's success in a traditionally Republican state was the culmination of slow, steady gains there by the party and reflected the changing demographics of the south- more diverse, more urban and younger. This was also reflected in the victories of both Democrats in the run off election for the Senate. In January 2021.

Population area

There is a high degree of correlation between voting and population area, in that the more densely populated areas tend to vote Democratic, while the more sparsely populated areas tend to vote Republican. The battleground of an election is therefore often in the suburbs. The Democrats have won at least 60% of the vote in cities over 500,000 in each of the last eight elections, with the exception of 1992 when independent candidate Ross Perot kept the Democratic vote down to 58% in big cities. But in ten of the last 11 presidential elections, the party that won the suburbs won the election. The one exception was 2012 when Romney beat Obama in the suburbs by 50% to 48%.

America is more and increasingly divided by the kind of community, with urban areas heavily supporting the Democrats while small towns and rural areas swung significantly to the Republicans. Whereas in 2012, Mitt Romney won small towns and rural areas by just 2 percentage points (50–48), in 2016 Trump won the same communities by 27 points (61–34).

It was particularly in small town and rural communities that had seen significant economic decline that Trump's message of ‘Make America great again’ most resonated.

The geographic polarisation of the US continued. When Bill Clinton won election to the White House in 1992, two-thirds of votes were cast in counties that were fairly even split between Democrats and Republicans, with the winning party securing less than 60 per cent of the vote. Less than one per cent were in ultra-partisan counties where one side won 80 per cent. Since then, the middle has been steadily hollowed out of American political geography. This year evenly split counties accounted for only around 40 per cent of votes, while one vote in 13 was cast in a deeply red or blue county where supporters of the winning party outnumber their opponents four-to-one or more. 

If millions of Americans live in communities of like minded people where alternative views are never encountered and people share the views they have found on selected media-is this the root of the riots and attacks on the Congress seen in January 2020 and the widely held belief that the election was stolen from Trump? 

2016 Atlantic Magazine How the election revealed the divide between city and country

'This election thus carved a divide between cities and non-metropolitan areas as stark as American politics has produced since the years just before and after 1920.' 

'I love the poorly educated.' 


'We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.' Donald Trump 2016

In 2012, Obama won both voters who had graduated from college and those who hadn't; he took 50 percent among the former group and 51 percent among the latter. In 2016 there was a far bigger divide. Clinton won voters with a college degree 52 percent to 43 percent. Trump won voters without a college degree by eight points. Trump 67% White without a college degree-Hilary 28%

Recent Pew Research Center studies also have found increasing differences in party identification between those with more and less education. And there is a growing ideological divide between these groups, with highly educated adults holding increasingly liberal attitudes across a range of issues. 

This might be because education tends to produce more socially liberal values — such as greater acceptance of different racial groups and religions, and support for civil liberties — so more educated voters are more likely to reject the socially conservative elements of the Republican Party. However, some have argued that there is a tendency for liberals or Democrats to value education more, so they stay in education for longer — so being liberal leads to higher education, not the other way around.

'It's the Economy Stupid'

Policies play a crucial role in influencing voting behavior, with specific policies of importance often changing from one election cycle to the next. While issues such as immigration, health reform, and gun control can be significant, the state of the economy consistently remains a critical factor. For instance, in 1980, Reagan questioned voters about their well-being after four years under Carter's administration. In 1992, Clinton's campaign manager reminded the team that 'It's the economy, stupid' to emphasize the election's focus. Obama, during the 2012 election, effectively convinced voters that while progress was being made, the economic challenges of his first term were substantial, making it unrealistic to completely reverse them in a single presidential term.

2016 the economy was seen as the most significant issue and Hilary won overall among those who said it was the most important issue - but Just 1 in 3 voters said they thought the country was “generally going in the right direction.” Clinton won 90 percent of that group. But, among the two-thirds of people who said things were “seriously off on the wrong track,” Trump took 69 percent. So Trump won the 'something's gotta change' vote.

Until the arrival of the pandemic and the Covid virus in March 2020, it would be fair to say that Trump appeared to be heading for a second term on the back of a booming economy.

Tom Steyer took the debate stage in Manchester, NH during the Democrat primary debate to make the case that the 2020 presidential election will come down to the economy