US Voting Behaviour


Voting Behaviour - Presidential Elections

  • Democrat states since 1992 - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Illinois, New York, Oregon.
  • Republican states since 1992 - Alabama, Kansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, Utah.
  • Missouri voted for the winner of every presidential election in the 20th century except in 1956.
  • Main swing states: Colorado, Michogan, Nevada, North Carolina, Flordia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia.

2016 Election:

  • Republicans won key swing states: Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin. Also won 3 "blue wall" stronghold states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Trump won 306 electoral college votes (270 to win the election).
  • Democrats won 232 electoral college votes, but Clinton had 3 million more popular votes than Trump; she had 48.5% while he had 46.4%, yet Trump still won due to the electoral college.
1 of 8

Factors that determine voting behaviour (1)

  • PARTY AFFILIATION - in 12/15 presidential elections from 1952-2008, the party that gained the highest level of support from its own identifiers was the party that won the election. In 2008, large numbers of Democrats came out to vote, as did independent voters, which was critical in Obama's victory (independents = 29% of electorate).
  • AGE - more difficult to determine; harder to see long-term trends but usually the young vote Democrat as they are more liberal and idealistic. 1972-88, seniors (60+) voted Republican, but in 1992, 1996 and 2000 voted Democrat. But in 2004, 2008 and 2016 have gone back to voting Republican.
  • WEALTH - in 2000, political scientists exoected Gore to beat Bush, but Gore's support was stronger among the less wealthy so didn't win. The 'wealth gap' is not as big as it was in the 1930's or even the 1980's but Obama saw an increase in every economic group; lower earners increased by 10% and those earning +$200,000 by 17%.
  • POLICIES - can be very important, varies from election to election; economy is often critical. In 2004 the 4 policy areas most frequently mentioned as being of importance to voters were moral values, the economy and jobs, and terrorism. In 2008 the big issue was the economy, in 2016 one big issue was immigration (short term vs long term).
  • CLASS & EDUCATION - 'Reagan Democrats' were working class voters employed in blue-collar jobs along the 'Rust Belt' (former industrial heartland). Trump won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin & Michigan which were previously won by Obama. Less educated voters tend to be more conservative on abortion, gay marriage, gender roles, race, gun control, etc.
2 of 8

Factors that determine voting behaviour (2)

  • GENDER - in 9/10 elections from 1964-2000 women were significantly more supportive of Democrats than men; in 2000 Bush gained 53% of the male vote and 43% of the female, Gore won 42% of men and 54% of women. In 2016 the 'gender gap' was 11% - widest gap for over 50 years. The gender gap is often thought to be due to policy differences between the two parties; in 5 major policy areas (abortion, defence, law & order, gun control and women's rights) Democrats are more favourable to women. In 2016 it was expected that Trump wouldn't get a large percentage of the female votes but actually it was down only 3% from Mitt Romney's total.
  • RACE - since the 1960's African Americans have given solid support to the Democrats after JFK and LBJ passed civil rights legislation; they have never given less than 83% support to the Democrats. Black turnout has increased in recent years, apart from in 2016 (most likely due to choice of candidates. Hispanics are also a growing group; Republicans gained a significant percentage (43% in 2004) but this dropped to 28% in 2016. The difference between Cuban and Mexican Hispanics is sometimes significant; Trump called Mexicans criminals and rapists but he still got some votes from them (due to them being Catholic?).
  • GEOGRPAHIC REGION - northeast is the new heartland of Democratic support but has a declining population. The 'solid south' now supports Republicans (more conservative). But Democrats continue to hold on to the west coast and Republicans have the middle. But it isn't consistent: 1996 Senators race: Dole and Kemp were northern Republicans who won the election, despite the Democrat candidates being from the deep South. Obama managed to flip 3 southern states (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida) and Trump broke through the 'Blue Wall' and won some northeast states.
3 of 8

Factors that determine voting behaviour (3)


  • Protestants - closely linked with the religious right; social conservatism (Bible Belt). White evangelicals voted 81% Trump in 2016. They tend to want Supreme Court judges to reflect evangelical conservatism.
  • Catholics - have tended to vote Democrat but as a group they are anti-abortion which can make a difference; only 45% of Catholics voted Democrat in 2016. Strong link to European Catholicism (e.g. Irish Americans in Massachusetts).
  • Jewish - also tend to vote Democrat as they are a minority group.
  • In 2000 and 2004 those who attended Church weekly voted more for Bush; those who seldom or never attended voted Gore instead. Bush targeted the Catholic vote.
  • 2016 - Church-goers voted 56% Republican, Athiests voted 31% Republican.


  • Densely-populated urban areas tend to vote Democrat, while sparsely-populated rural areas vote mostly Republican; in 2016 Trump won small towns/rural areas by 27%.
  • E.g. Wayne County, Iowa - population is 99% white, 14% below the poverty line with a decreasing population,; they voted 71% Trump.
  • Battleground = suburbs; for the last 10 elections the party that won the suburbs won the election.
4 of 8

Blue and Red America

Blue America

  • White, black, Asian and Hispanic Americans.
  • Religion isn't a huge influence but they are usually in urban areas; want increased taxes for the wealthy.
  • Pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control, pro-Obamacare.

Red America

  • Overwhelmingly protestant (evangelical) - typically white.
  • Often practicing Catholics (pro-life), can be wealthy, rural or suburban.
  • Pro-guns, pro-traditional marriage, pro-life, anti-Obamacare.
5 of 8

Voting Behaviour - Midterms (1)


  • The 2010 midterms shattered Obama's optimism.
  • Turnout = 42%; highest since 1982.
  • Democrats conceded more seats in the House than any other party since 1948.
  • Independent voters supported Republican by a 15-point margin.
  • Voters were frustrated due to lack of change in economy and unemployment.
  • "Enthusiasm gap" - many first-time voters didn't vote in midterms.
  • In battleground districts, 64% felt the country was going wrong.
  • Only 40% thought Obama was doing a good job - he lost some black support.
  • More voters wanted smaller government and reduction in the budget deficit.
  • There was greater Republican appeal.
6 of 8

Voting Behaviour - Midterms (2)


  • Republicans won control of the Senate for the first time since 2006 and made considerable gains in the House, in governorships, etc.
  • Obama then talked about compromis but still seemed to move left; e.g. he granted legitimate status to 5 million undocumented immigrants. He introduced 'net neutrality' rules and the climage change deal with China (both currently being overturned by Donald Trump).
  • But it still became a lame-duck presidency; Obama found it difficult to get his reforms through Congress due to a Republican-dominated Senate.
  • Key policies in the 2014 Midterms: Obamacare, the economy, income differences and foreign policy/terrorism.
7 of 8

Split-ticket Voting

  • This is where voters divide their party loyalties in different elections (e.g. voting Republican for President and Democrat for Senate).
  • The 2016 election, however, saw the highest percentage of straight-ticket votes in over a century; of 34 states with Senate races, all 34 states voted the same party for Senate and President.
  • Separation theory - voters see parties as having different strengths/weaknesses so balance them out by splitting their ticket. In 2012 Democrats wanted welfare measures and Republicans wanted low cost of goverment = split ticket.
  • The incumbency factor - pork-barelling incumbents are likely to be re-elected regardless of opposing votes. In 2012 Florida elected Democrats to federal government and Republicans to state legislature.
  • Partisan dealignment - voters choose candidates rather than parties which leads to split ticket voting. In 1980 around 28% of voter split - due to the overall appeal of Ronald Reagan?
  • Balancing theory - voters find all parties too extreme so split their ticket to create a balanced government. In 1988 Dukakis and Bush were seen as quite extreme in their ideology so 25% split their ticket.
  • Cognative Madisonianism - voters want different parties in power to encourage checks and balances and limited government. In 1972 30% of voters split.  
8 of 8


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all USA voter behaviour resources »