There was never any question which presidential candidate would carry Washington in 2020. Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent Republican Donald Trump was a foregone conclusion in our reliably “blue” state, which hasn’t voted for Republican in a presidential election since 1984.
But that did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the electorate in what many people considered the most important election of their lifetime.
According to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, out of the nearly 5.4 million Washingtonians who are eligible to vote, more than 3.8 million cast a ballot in the 2020 contest.
That pencils out to 71.5%, the highest turnout as far back as the data goes, which is to 1980. The previous high for turnout in Washington was in 1992, when about 70% of U.S. citizens age 18 and over cast a vote and helped put Bill Clinton in the White House.
Among the 50 states, Washington tied with Virginia for the ninth highest turnout in 2020. New Jersey ranked No. 1, at more than 78%, and Arkansas was in last place, at 54%.
Say what you will about Donald Trump, he certainly got the vote out. He inspired deep devotion among his followers and an equal level of antipathy among those who didn’t follow him. And that resulted in a surge in voter turnout last year when compared with 2016 in nearly every state.
In Washington, turnout among eligible voters jumped by more than 5 percentage points from 2016, when 66.3% voted. While that’s a big increase, some other states had even more impressive spikes. In Hawaii and New Jersey, turnout among eligible voters increased by about 17 percentage points from 2016. Tennessee, Kentucky and Arizona also shot up more than 10 percentage points. The surge in Arizona likely helped Biden flip the state to blue.
But in a small number of states — there were just six of them — turnout went down.
It’s difficult to discern any pattern among the states where, for whatever reason, voter enthusiasm waned a little in 2020. Arkansas, a reliably Republican state, had the biggest drop in turnout, down nearly five percentage points. Two other conservative states — Nebraska and South Dakota — had smaller declines. Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states, also had a slightly lower turnout in 2020. And surprisingly, turnout fell in three states that were considered competitive: North Carolina, Maine and Colorado.
In Washington, the highest turnout was among white voters, at 77% of those who were eligible. Asian voters had the second-highest turnout (63%), followed by Black voters (61%) and Hispanic voters (54%).
Washington women voted in higher numbers than men, with a turnout of 74% and 68.5%, respectively, among those who were eligible.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the number of eligible voters in Washington state.