Abstention, Protest, and Residual Votes in the 2016 Election

Social Science Quarterly, Forthcoming

42 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2019

See all articles by Charles Stewart III

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

R. Michael Alvarez

California Institute of Technology

Stephen Pettigrew

University of Pennsylvania

Cameron Wimpy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: December 4, 2019

Abstract

Objective: We analyze the significant increase in the residual vote rate in the 2016 presidential election. The residual vote rate, which is the percentage of ballots cast in a presidential election that contain no vote for president, rose nationwide from 0.99% to 1.41% between 2012 and 2016.

Method: We use election return data and public opinion data to examine why the residual vote rate increased in 2016.

Results: The primary explanation for this rise is an increase in abstentions, which we argue results primarily from disaffected Republican voters, rather than alienated Democratic voters. In addition, other factors related to election administration and electoral competition explain variation in the residual vote rates across states, particularly the use of mail/absentee ballots and the lack of competition at the top of the ticket in non-battleground states. However, we note that the rise in the residual vote rate was not due to changes in voting technologies.

Conclusion: Our research has implications for the use of the residual vote as a metric for studying election administration and voting technologies.

Keywords: Protest voting, abstention, presidential elections, residual votes

Suggested Citation

Stewart III, Charles and Alvarez, R. Michael and Pettigrew, Stephen and Wimpy, Cameron, Abstention, Protest, and Residual Votes in the 2016 Election (December 4, 2019). Social Science Quarterly, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3498612

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

R. Michael Alvarez (Contact Author)

California Institute of Technology ( email )

Department of Humanities and Social Science M/C 228-77
Pasadena, CA 91125
United States
626-395-4422 (Phone)

Stephen Pettigrew

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Cameron Wimpy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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