Where Did The Democratic Vote Go?

Who Headed to the Polls in Cuyahoga County in the 2016 Election?

Cuyahoga County, one of the most populated areas in Ohio, has always been crucial to national elections. The historic 2016 election was no different and was very indicative of some of the most intriguing trends and stories in politics across the United States. Declining voter turnout, voter purging controversies, and the increased political polarization of the electorate were all visible right here within county lines.

Voter registration remains consistent, despite population loss

Table 1 and Figure 1 display the total population of Cuyahoga County, total number of registered voters, total number of votes cast, and composition of votes cast in the past four election cycles. The voting-eligible population (18 years and older) remained largely constant during the past four election seasons. However, we do see a drastic shift in the total number of registered voters especially between the 2004 season and 2008 season. The spike in 2008 may be partially contributed to high rates of voter interest in an extremely exciting election year. However, in 2008, there were also more people registered to vote than the entire eligible population of the county at the time, indicating that there may have been registered voters that were deceased, moved out, or duplicated in the database.

The total number of votes cast steadily declined in the past few election seasons with the lowest turnout in 2016. Perhaps due to dissatisfaction with the candidates of both parties, fewer people cast votes in this election cycle. Many people in Cuyahoga County decided to disengage themselves from the democratic process lowering the total number of vote casts to the lowest of the decade. However, despite voting turnout changes, Democrats continue to hold a steady lead over Republicans in this region with percentage vote share over 65% in all four elections.

Table 1.

Zooming into the 2016 election data, Clinton received 66,645 fewer votes in 2016 compared with Obama in 2012 due to both lower turnout and percent vote share. Given that Trump only won the election in Ohio with a lead of about 450,000 votes, a loss of over 65,000 votes in one of the most Democratic regions in Ohio significantly contributed to Trump’s victory.

Figure 1: Total Voter Registration by Year

How are you going to vote?

Patterns of voting based on location, age, and party affiliation are strong across the country and Cuyahoga County is no exception. Cuyahoga County has long been considered a Democratic bastion in Ohio. As illustrated in Figure 2, though the majority of voters have not officially registered with a party, there are significantly more registered Democrats than Republicans in 2016 as with most previous years.

Figure 2. Voter Distribution by Party Affiliation

The dominance of Democrats over Republicans has shifted slightly over the years, however. Figure 3 below compares party composition of this election cycle with previous election cycles. Overall, the amount of registered Republicans is incrementally increasing whereas the amount of registered Democrats has been in overall decline in Cuyahoga County since 2004.

Figure 3. Voter Registration by Party and Election Year

Figure 4. Registered Democrats by Zip Code as % of population

Geographically, Democrats tend to be clustered in the eastern part of Cleveland in areas such as Shaker Heights, University Heights, and Bedford. People living in those areas tend to be more educated, conforming to the demographic of Democrats in this election. There is also a large concentration of registered Democrats in the Lakewood area where many young professionals live.

Republicans are clustered in the outskirts of the city in all directions. Areas with large Republican concentrations include Bay Village & West Lake, Brecksville, and Gates Mill. Those areas tend to be more rural compared with areas where Democrats are more concentrated.

Certain zip codes were much more likely to be registered to vote than others. In the 44114 zip code, an astonishing 98.3% of the population was registered to vote, compared to rates ranging from 60 to 70% in most areas. Suburb or outlying areas also had higher voter registration rates.

The map above shows that newly registered voters in 2016 tended to be concentrated in certain zip codes, which follows trends of aging suburbs and a very young downtown/metropolitan area in Cuyahoga County.

Mirroring national trends, baby boomers (55-64 yrs old) and millennials (25-34 yrs old) are the strongest voting blocs in Cuyahoga County. This figure displays the population distribution of age groups for voters in 2016 compared with the most recently available population distribution of Cuyahoga County (2015 ACS). People between 25 to 34 years old and between 65 to 74 years old are the top two groups with over 90% of their population registered to vote.

The strength of the millennial voice is not as loud as it could be, however, as generation Y (18-24 years old) have a much lower voter registration rate than older millennials between the ages of 25 to 34 years old. Politicians and the community must work harder to engage and connect with younger voters and encourage them to show up on election day.

What’s up with the purging?

Starting in Nov. 2011, Ohio law requires boards of elections to mail address confirmation notices to individuals that are identified as possibly having moved based on the national change of address service. These individuals are marked as “confirmation” status in the board of elections database and are given a certain amount of time to update their registration. If they did not confirm or had not voted within 2 years they could be removed from the registration rolls. However, in September 2016, this was ruled as unconstitutional. Within the database, it shows that 177,187 voters are on confirmation status, meaning the effects of potential purges could be drastic in barring voters from the polls.

The revocation of the voter purging policy is a clear demonstration of the unintended negative consequence of seemingly reasonable data practices. Even though periodically removing inactive and invalid users from a database is a common practice in many commercial applications, it resulted in unintended consequences where people’s rights were harmed in the case of voter registration. Therefore, as civil data practitioners, we must be aware of the political consequences of seemingly innocent database practices as we are dealing with the rights of real people instead of just numbers.


The 2016 general election will go down in history as one of the most polarizing elections of our time. Who voted, their location, and the laws in those states will impact future elections to come and Ohio and Cuyahoga County are no different.

We took a look at key demographics to highlight interesting facts about voters in Cuyahoga County this year. Despite strong voter participation from the Millennial (25-34 yrs old) and Baby Boomer (55-64 yrs old) generation, it is concerning that Generation Y (18-24 yrs old) are not as active as other generations. And while there are clusters of high Democratic, Republican, and general voter engagement, such as the downtown areas, Shaker Heights, Lakewood, and the far out suburbs, many other areas appear to be less engaged.

As we look forward to the 2017 local elections and 2018 midterm elections, we face years in which the voter participation and community engagement will be markedly lower across all groups than they were this year. We hope that this analysis can help politicians and parties to understand their existing base of support, and what areas they should be further engaging within the county. We also intend to spark a discussion about how citizens, politicians, and community organizations can encourage civic engagement among key groups during not only general elections but also the crucial local and state elections.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or requests for further analysis, please email datahubresponse@digitalc.org.



For more information about voter registrations in Cuyahoga County, check out the Board of Elections report:

Statistics on past elections were found in this report: http://boe.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_boe/en-US/ElectionResults2012/Nov2012/a...

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