The vast majority of ballots have been counted nearly two weeks after one of the biggest political upsets in modern U.S. history catapulted Donald Trump to the presidency. Estimates show more than 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls during the 2016 election, nearly breaking even with the turnout rate set during the last presidential election in 2012, even as the final tallies in states like California continue to be calculated, according to statistics collected by the U.S. Elections Project. But among those figures were stark contrasts in key states that helped swing the election to Trump — in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and elsewhere — indicating the President-elect’s leap from long-shot candidate to the most powerful political position in the world may have happened in part because of apathy toward Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, especially among the Democratic base, several political scientists and organizations monitoring voter turnout told the PBS NewsHour.
While Clinton is leading the popular vote by more than 1.5 million over Trump as of Sunday, she trails President Obama’s 2012 totals by more than 2 million ballots — a chasm that may have cost her the election, said David Becker, co-founder of the Center for Election and Innovation and Research. “Several million voters didn’t come out to vote,” Becker said. “Which is telling me that this idea of the Trump wave, a huge number of voters shifting over to Trump, is certainly not the story.”
Nationally, the number of people who voted for Trump were only slightly ahead of those who supported the last Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2012. But Becker said that while turnout in purple states like Florida and Pennsylvania had a slight uptick this year, at least 19 other states saw lower turnout rates compared with 2012, a scenario that is antithetical to presidential-year voting that tends to increase each cycle when an incumbent is not a part of the race.
According to Becker, turnout rates dropped by 1.3 percent in Iowa, 3 percent in Wisconsin and nearly 4 percent in Ohio in 2016, a combination that became a death knell for Clinton’s presidential hopes in areas where Obama performed well during his two terms.