5 Things To Know About Vermont's 2016 General Election Results

Nov 29, 2016

At 6:59 p.m. on election night, a minute before polls in Vermont had officially closed, the Associated Press called the state for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Because of that, it could be easy to overlook some of the nuances of Vermont's electoral breakdown in the presidential race.

Here are five things we found when we dug into the official numbers from the Vermont Secretary of State's office.

1. Clinton got far fewer votes than Obama did in 2012, while Trump did slightly better than Romney.

According to data from the Vermont Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton received 56 percent of the Vermont vote, while President-elect Donald Trump received 30 percent — or 95,369 votes.

Related: Almost 100,000 Vermonters Voted For Trump. Why?

In 2012, incumbent President Barack Obama got 199,053 votes, which is much better than Clinton’s 178,573 in 2016. Meanwhile, Trump only managed to get 2,789 more votes than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did in 2012.

2. It was a big year for third-party candidates.

A whopping 41,125 — or 12.8 percent — of votes cast in Vermont in this year’s general election went to candidates other than Clinton or Trump.

In 2012, meanwhile, just 6,423 votes were cast for candidates other than Obama and Romney.

This year also holds the record for the most votes cast outside the two major parties since 1992, when nearly 23 percent of the Vermont vote went to candidates other than then-President George H.W. Bush or then-Gov. Bill Clinton.

Middlebury political science professor Matt Dickinson specializes in presidential elections and the presidency. And while he says national numbers show a slight increase in third-party support, “Vermont is somewhat of an exception.”

Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson together earned 5.25 percent, or 16,836 votes, in Vermont. And this huge support for third party candidates is part of what hurt Clinton’s numbers compared to Obama’s in 2012.

Dickinson says, “Stein’s [votes] and probably a chunk of Johnson’s came out of Clinton’s [votes].”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, shown here campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Nov. 3, received the most write-in votes of any presidential candidate since Vermont began tracking those results in 1980.
Credit John Minchillo / AP

3. Bernie Sanders' role in the results was 'huge.'

Sen. Bernie Sanders is also a big part of what made 2016 different than 2012. He received the most write-in votes of any presidential candidate since the state began tracking those results in 1980.

Ralph Nader, seen here announcing his 2000 bid for president, was the last candidate outside the two major parties to earn such a significant percentage of the Vermont vote.
Credit J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The last time a candidate not nominated by a major party did as well was in 2000 when Ralph Nader got more than 20,000 votes in Vermont. (Nader was on the ballot as the Progressive/Green party candidate, while every one of the 18,183 votes cast for Sanders in Vermont was a write-in.)

Part of the reason Sanders did so well was due to an organized, last-minute effort encouraging people in Vermont to write him in, Dickinson says.

“People were up here organizing, knocking on doors to get him the write-in ballots.” Dickinson explains. “And he did better than I expected, even if he fell far short of winning the state.”

Dickinson says he thinks many of Sanders’ votes “came out of Hillary Clinton’s.”

But even if you were to remove Sanders from the equation, the remaining votes for candidates other than Trump and Clinton — 22,942 — is still a substantial 7 percent of the Vermont vote. (There were other candidates besides Stein and Johnson on the ballot, as well as those who received write-in support.) 

4. As a result, the 2016 town-by-town map is a little misleading.

At first look, the 2016 town-by-town map is clearly a lot redder than the 2012 version. In 2012, only two Vermont towns — Maidstone and Morgan in the Northeast Kingdom — went for Romney.

But this year, 61 towns, many of which are in Essex and Orleans county, went red.

A town-by-town look at the 2016 and 2012 presidential results. In 2012, only two towns in Vermont went for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Credit Data: Vermont Secretary Of State; Illustration: Emily Alfin Johnson, VPR

And while the contrast between 2012 and 2016 is visually striking, Dickinson says it’s also misleading.

“It's not that Trump had greater support,” says Dickinson, “it's that the Obama support was fractured among more candidates in 2016.”

While Trump won towns Romney lost in 2012, in many cases he won with less than 50 percent of the vote.

“Even though a majority of the voters wanted someone other than Donald Trump, he ends up winning that town,” Dickinson says. “And you see that in numerous places like in a lot of the Northeast Kingdom towns where he did well. These are towns that went for Obama in 2012. Now, Trump is winning these towns but with less than 50 percent of the vote.”

The 2016 town-by-town presidential results. The graphic on the left shows which candidate won each town, while the graphic on the right shows which candidate won, and by how much. While Republican candidate Donald Trump won 61 towns, the map on the right shows that he won many of those towns by a plurality of 50 percent or less.
Credit Data: Vermont Secretary Of State; Illustration: Emily Alfin Johnson, VPR

So if you were to look at just towns where Trump won 50 percent or more, that leaves just 18 towns. He won 44 towns with a plurality of 50 percent or less. And on average, in the towns Trump won, more than 15 percent of votes were cast for candidates other than Clinton or Trump.

A good example of this can be seen in Swanton. Forty-one percent of voters in Swanton voted for Hillary Clinton, 44 percent voted for Trump and 15 percent voted for other candidates, including 8 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

5. Turnout was high, but early ballots set the record
Sixty-eight percent of registered Vermonters turned out to vote according to the Secretary of State. A record-setting, 30 percent of the 320,467 votes were cast using early ballots.

Check out the full Vermont results from this year's general election here.