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- This claim is based on bad math, not reality.
- Turnout in same-day registration states is measured as a percentage of eligible voters, not registered voters.
- Trump Jr.’s figures use eligible voters for the 2016 figure but registered voters for 2020.
- Using the proper denominator for 2020 shows a turnout around 72%, firmly in the range of past presidential elections.
The long wait for presidential election results has created a void where citizens are seeking information on how we got here — a void being filled often with poorly researched information.
Donald Trump Jr. was among the many on social media the day after the election reacting to voting numbers without first considering or researching whether they’re legitimate.
The president’s son tweeted "I’m calling bull****," at about 2 p.m. on Nov. 4, sharing another tweet that claimed turnout in Wisconsin jumped from 67.34% in 2016 to 89.25% in 2020. (Eric Trump, another of the president's sons, posted the same thing on Facebook, saying, "Looks like fraud!")
It fed into the false narrative swirling among conservatives that Wisconsin and other key states went to Democratic candidate Joe Biden as a result of voter fraud.
The turnout claim — retweeted based on Trump Jr.’s share more than 13,000 times — is absurd and based on a misunderstanding of basic election math. Twitter has since suppressed the original tweet, noting it "might be misleading about an election." It is misleading.
Wisconsin had more than 3.6 million registered voters heading into Election Day, and more than 3.2 million Wisconsinites voted in the presidential race.
But those aren’t the numbers used to calculate turnout here.
For starters, Wisconsin allows same-day voter registration, so that number of registered voters goes up throughout the day. In 2016, for example, 12.7% of voters registered on Election Day, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Even more important, registered voters is the wrong figure entirely for calculating turnout. Voter turnout in a same-day registration state is based on the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot.
So when you divide the number of votes cast in Wisconsin — 3,278,963 as of Nov. 5 — by the voting-age population in Wisconsin (4,536,293 as of 2019, according to the elections commission), you get a turnout rate of 72.3%.
That’s the highest rate ever behind the 2004 election, but solidly in the range of past presidential contests here.
Recent presidential election turnouts in Wisconsin:
2020 — 72.3%
2016 — 67.3%
2012 — 70.4%
2008 — 69.2%
2004 — 72.9%
2000 — 67%
It is also worth noting that while Biden received about 250,000 more votes than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016, Trump exceeded his own 2016 totals by 14.6% percent, or about 200,000 votes.
So, a good chunk of the increased turnout was due to his supporters.
Trump Jr. shared a claim that Wisconsin’s turnout jumped from 67% in 2016 to 89% in 2020, and intimated it is due to fraud or something nefarious.
But it’s due to bad math.
Turnout is measured as a percentage of eligible voters, not registered voters. Trump Jr.’s figures use eligible voters for the 2016 figure but registered voters for 2020.
Using the proper denominator for 2020 shows a turnout around 72%, firmly in the range of past presidential elections.
We rate this Pants on Fire!
Donald Trump Jr., tweet, Nov. 4, 2020
MIlwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin election results, updated Nov. 5, 2020
Wisconsin Elections Commission, Wisconsin Voter Turnout Statistics, accessed Nov. 5, 2020
New York Times, 2016 Wisconsin Election Results, Aug. 1, 2017
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