When voters showed up at the polls in November, they represented nearly 50 percent of the voting-eligible population, according to the United States Election Project. That was the best midterm showing in more than a century—since 1914, to be exact. And there’s every reason to expect 2020 turnout might also be a record-setter in its own right.
The highest turnout in a presidential year in the last 100 years came in 1960, when 63.8 percent of Americans showed up to elevate John F. Kennedy to the presidency over Richard Nixon. More recent points of reference include the 2008 cycle that motivated 61.6 percent of the nation to get to the polls to elect Barack Obama, and the 2016 cycle, in which 60.1 percent of the nation voted.
But the factors that suggest 2020 could be a historic year are both the national mood and the history of how midterm turnout typically relates to the presidential cycle that follows. As Roll Call writes:
Quantitatively, the smallest difference between turnout in a midterm and a subsequent presidential election was 9 points between the 1918 and 1920 elections and the 1970 and 1972 elections. That would put 2020 turnout at a minimum of about 59 percent, just five points shy of the record. […]
The largest difference was 23.4 points, from the 2014 midterm to the 2016 presidential. A similar dynamic would put 2020 turnout at a considerable 73 percent, which would rival 1900, when GOP President William McKinley faced down Democrat William Jennings Bryan in his winning re-election bid.
But even if voter turnout between the midterm and the presidential increased by just the average amount over the last century—16 points—that would put 2020 turnout at a historic 66 percent.
And the more turnout the better—both for America and for the Democrats.