By Oliver Gladfelter
We know how Denisonians voted in the 2016 presidential election, although there still remains plenty of questions about our voting patterns. This was a unique campaign, and, with two historically unpopular candidates, voter turnout was constantly a question. Would citizens’ lack of enthusiasm for the candidates lead to low turnout? Or would citizens be motivated to get out and vote against what they saw as the worst candidate? Just 1 or 2 percentage points in turnout can make all the difference in an election’s outcome, and because voting is a part of being an “active citizen in a Democratic society,” voting turnout of Denison students is of particular interest to us.
Nationally, voter turnout was down – just 56 percent voted compared to 58 percent in 2012 and 62 percent in 2008. However, Denison students voted at an incredible rate – 93.2% of eligible voters got out and voted. In the 2012 Obama vs Romney presidential election, 85.7% of Denison students voted while 14.3% sat the election out, so our turnout definitely shot up for the 2016 election.
In what was such a divisive and fear-inducing campaign, one might expect certain groups on campus to vote at higher rates than others. This is because, for some groups, the stakes simply seemed higher. This was not reflected in Denison data, however – all different groups of gender, race, and sexual orientation voted at about the same rate.
As far as candidate support goes, 95.7% of Clinton supporters voted and 91% of Trump supporters voted – effectively the same rate. For students who weren’t sure who to support by a week before the election, only 76.9% of them voted – which is still way above the national average. Overall, ideology seems linked to Denison student’s voter turnout – the more left leaning a student is, the more likely they are to vote (Figure 1).
| Figure 1 – Denison Liberals Vote More Than Denison Conservatives
One fear Democrats had was that Bernie Sanders supporters would refuse to support Clinton and end up not voting at all. A staggering 45% of the student body supported Sanders during the primary season, so Bernie supporters refusing to vote would have dramatically affected the student body voting rate. But as it turned out, 94.8% of Denison’s Bernie supporters voted in the general election (and mostly for Clinton).
Despite not being able to vote for their preferred candidate, students who supported another Republican candidate (Kasich, Rubio, Cruz, etc) in the primaries also had a high turnout (nearly 95%). And as for those students who didn’t support any candidate at all in the primaries, 89.4% of them eventually picked a candidate and voted (mostly for Clinton).
Needless to say, students who supported Clinton in the primary season came back in the general and voted at incredibly high rates (96.4%). And not a single one of those students changed their mind – 100% of students who were “With Her” from the beginning stayed consistent with their support. On the other side, only 88% of students who supported Trump during the primaries ended up voting in the general and 96.1% of Trump primary supporters stuck with him to the end.
College students are often thought of as a group that just doesn’t vote at significant rates and typically not for unjust reasons – those aged 18-24, even those registered, consistently vote less than all other age groups. However, Denison students can feel pride that they are an exception to this rule. All voters across the nation faced the temptation to stay home on election day given historically unpopular candidates. However, Denisonians resisted this temptation. We came out in record numbers, and many of us even turned against one of the most powerful forces in American politics – partisanship. Denison students didn’t let others choose for them, they took action.
So, who exactly voted for Clinton? And for Trump? How did Bernie supporters vote? Did Republicans jump ship and vote for Clinton, or stay red? Stay tuned…
Oliver Gladfelter is a huge advocate of procrastination and spends most of his time finding new ways to waste time. He also studies political science on the side.