New Census Bureau data show nearly 36 percent of the state’s registered voters who did not cast a ballot sat out because they didn’t like their choices: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. That percentage tops the nation.
What’s the No. 1 reason that millions of Americans sat out the election in 2016?
Answer: The candidates themselves, according to new survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of the registered voters who stayed home in November, 1 in 4 said it was because of a dislike of the candidates or campaign issues — nearly double the percentage from the 2012 election.
It’s also the first time since 1996, when the Census Bureau began asking nonvoters about their reasons, that dislike of the candidates was the top response.
When you consider who was running for president, it isn’t all that surprising. Both major-party candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, had historically low election-eve favorability ratings.
Nowhere was the electorate more disgusted with the choices than right here in Washington.
Nearly 36 percent of registered voters in the state who didn’t cast a ballot sat out the election because they didn’t like the candidates. That percentage ranks Washington No. 1 among the 50 states, and the District of Columbia.
It’s a striking increase from 2012, when only 16 percent of the state’s nonvoters gave that as their primary reason. Washington didn’t even rank among the top 10 then.
What was so repellent about the candidates to Washington voters in 2016?
“It was a very negative campaign,” said Emilio Garza, executive director of Washington Bus, a Seattle-based nonprofit that focuses heavily on get-out-the-vote efforts.
“It became about the candidates themselves, not the issues,” he said. “What we were hearing on the ground was that folks didn’t feel like they were connecting with the candidates on the issues — not at all. They were just really fed up with the way the race was being framed.”
And then, of course, there was the Bernie Sanders factor.
“He was a very compelling candidate,” Garza said. “It would have been really interesting to see how Bernie Sanders would have done if he had moved on to the general.”
But once Clinton secured the nomination, there was never any doubt that she would win Washington’s 12 electoral votes, which she did with 54 percent of the vote. That probably explains why “my vote wouldn’t make a difference” was the No. 2 reason given by the state’s nonvoters. Almost 20 percent chose that response, making it a distant second to dislike of the candidates.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Washington, Louisiana nonvoters didn’t have a lot of complaints about who was running in 2016 — only 9 percent said they didn’t like the candidates. The state voted 58 percent for Trump.
Even so, in Louisiana and nearly everywhere else, Americans liked their choices for president better in 2012, when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were the major-party candidates. In fact, only one state was (slightly) happier this time around: Oklahoma, which Donald Trump carried with 65 percent of the vote.
For each presidential election until 2016, the No. 1 reason that Americans cited for not voting was the same: They were too busy, or had a conflicting schedule with work or school. In Washington, and the handful of other states that use mail-in ballots, that excuse wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
There was a lot of talk about long lines at polling places as a deterrent for voters in 2016, particularly for urban and minority voters. In the census data, though, long lines were only cited by just over 2 percent of nonvoters, about the same as in 2012.
Another revelation in the new census data: Washington may have the nation’s flakiest electorate.
Despite round-the-clock media coverage, about one in 10 who didn’t vote in the state said it was because they simply forgot.
Last year marks the third consecutive presidential election where Washington ranks No. 1 for forgetful voters. That could be one of the pitfalls of a mail-in system — it’s easy to forget the mail on your kitchen counter as you walk out the door.
In total, 21.2 percent of Washington’s registered voters — about 900,000 people — did not vote in 2016, an increase from 18.7 percent in 2012, according to the Washington Secretary of State.