TargetSmart Insights - An Early Look at the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Voter Registration

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every facet of American life. As we’ve all seen in recent weeks, the crisis is also having a profound effect on how elections are administered, and campaigns are run.

While it will be some time until we have a full picture of how the crisis has shaped the electorate, an initial picture is emerging. TargetSmart conducted an analysis of the voter files of all 50 states plus Washington, DC to see how registration this cycle compares to 2016.

Pre-COVID-19 Voter Registration Surge

We have the clearest picture of voter registration trends in the ten months leading up to the first presidential primary in February 2020. In each of the ten months, voter registration surged over the same period four years ago. For example, in August 2016 an average of 30,903 Americans registered every day. In August 2020, that number nearly doubled to 57,433.

In total, over 5.3 million more Americans registered to vote in the 10 months leading up to the 2020 primary than did in the same period in the 2016 election cycle.

2016 and 2020 election cycles new registration comparison

Detailed Counts and a full state-by-state breakdown are available.

Impact of COVID-19 on Voter Registration

Currently, only 13 states (AK, CA, CO, HI, IA, KS, LA, MD, MI, NC, OH, OR and PA) have made updated voter files available through March 2020. In those states, we saw that the average number of new registrants in February tracks along a similar positive trendline from previous months: February 2020 saw an average of 46,450 new registrants compared to just 21,171 in February 2016.

That number dipped significantly in March as the crisis worsened and many states went into lockdown.

Still, the average number of new voter registrations in March in this cohort of states averaged 28,001 new registrations a day, nearly matching the 29,796 new registrants in 2016.

2016 and 2020 election cycles new registration comparison in states with data through March 2020

Detailed Counts and a full state-by-state breakdown are available.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll continue to post data and analysis on how the pandemic is shaping the electorate and other key findings. Check back here for updates or tweet us at @TargetSmart with your questions.