American Government and Politics

Party Realignment, Education, and the Turnout Advantage



Education is a strong---if not the strongest---predictor of political participation. As non-college voters align with the Republican Party, it is necessary to revisit the partisan effect of turnout. We predict that, since 2016, the Democratic Party benefits from lower turnout. Using validated voter turnout from the Cooperative Election Study (CES), we simulate election results across turnout rates for the 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 presidential elections. Our findings show that increases in turnout benefit the Democratic Party in 2008 and 2012. However, this pattern has drastically changed. In 2016 and 2020, the Democratic Party is advantaged by lower turnout. During this period, the profile of marginal voters has also changed: less educated voters most on the fence about participating in presidential elections are increasingly Republican. These results indicate that continued party realignment along the lines of education could lead to a persistent reversal in the expected partisan effect of turnout.


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