Tag Archives: voter turnout

What role, if any, might turnout play in explaining the pattern of backlash to the President’s party in the first midterm of their presidency?

Almost exactly a year ago, I expressed skepticism that the Republican Party’s wins in Bucks County in the off-cycle 2021 election “amount[ed] to the GOP roaring back to life in the Pennsylvania suburbs.” In that post, I grumbled that: “No one ever seriously discusses turnout” when making predictions, and I remarked that “[w]e would have to see next year’s midterm turnout drop to 2014 levels for the 2021 election to be a useful benchmark of GOP support in the state.”

So here we are, one year later. Democrats in Pennsylvania captured both state-wide offices, kept their hold on three competitive House districts that many feared would flip, and seemingly secured the very slimmest majority in the state’s lower house for the first time in over a decade. They held on to suburban voters, and those voters turned out at high rates—as one might have expected based on the fact that high SES, college-educated individuals are consistent voters.

Democrats in Pennsylvania did much better than expected, as they did in Colorado and elsewhere. But this was not true not everywhere. The President’s party did worse than expected in Florida, but also in New York and Connecticut, and both Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams lost their elections by wider margins than in their previous bids.

It is well-known that states vary a great deal when it comes to turnout. Turnout in a handful of states always outpaces the rest of the country. Minnesota, Maine, Colorado, Oregon, and Wisconsin generally leading the pack, including in midterms.

So, what might we learn if we compared turnout in states where the Democrats exceeded expectations to turnout where their losses were worse than anticipated? The simplest and most direct comparison would be Pennsylvania versus Florida—two consistently competitive states; both of which generally have middling turnout numbers.

Preliminary reports suggest that turnout in Pennsylvania was extremely high. U.S. Elections Project estimates 55% of eligible voters turned out in Pennsylvania in 2022. By contrast, it estimates that turnout in Florida was 49.3% of VEP. In other words, Pennsylvanians turned out at a higher rate than in the 2018 midterm election (which boasted the highest overall turnout in 100 years), while Floridians turned out at rates only slightly above the 2014 midterm (which set the record for the lowest voter turnout since 1942). For those who are curious, both states are capable of high and low turnout: Turnout in Florida in 2018 was 54.3%, and turnout in Pennsylvania in 2014 was 36.5%.

It is too early to have a good picture of how representative the electorate that turned out on November 8 was along axes of class, race, and education. But we do have some early information about representativeness with respect to age. A critical mass of young voters turned out in Pennsylvania, and some argue they were decisive to Fetterman’s victory. Florida’s young voters turned out at comparable levels, but as in Ohio, young voters in Florida are more divided in their partisan preferences than those in Pennsylvania.

The voter turnout story is not simple, however. In Colorado, where Democrats exceeded expectations, voter turnout is estimated to be slightly down from 2018, but hardly bad: Turnout in Colorado in 2018 was 61.4%. This year 57. 9% of voters in Colorado are estimated to have turned out. Turnout was also high in Michigan where it is estimated to have reached 59% this cycle (compared to 57.7% in 2018 and 43.2% in 2014).

In New York, where Democrats did worse than expected voter turnout out was abysmal (42.6%), but nowhere near as low as it was in 2014 (29.0%) and only slightly down from 2018 (45.7%). And, at least, based on the preliminary data, it is hard to see either Beto O’Rourke or Stacey Abrams’ losses as a product of significantly depressed voter turnout.

The conventional wisdom is, of course, that low voter turnout doesn’t matter because the electorate that turns out largely shares the same preferences as those who stay home. I am on record as skeptical about this conventional wisdom.

So, would more systematic attention to variable voter turnout complicated the conventional wisdom that the President’s party always gets a shellacking in the first midterm after their election?  It is hard to tell, but probably, to varying degrees, in different places.

But the real point is: Wouldn’t it be great if we could hold turnout constant in our efforts to analyze the political implications of elections? Wouldn’t it be great if more states were like Minnesota, Maine, Colorado, and Wisconsin and fewer were like New York, Texas and Tennessee (which had the lowest turnout this cycle)?

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“Voters of color did move to the right — just not at the rates predicted”

With the caveat that this analysis is based on exit polls–which are not terribly reliablePolitico has an analysis of how the Democratic Party did among different racial and ethnic groups. Key themes:

  • “[N]ew voters from 2018 and 2020, as well as younger voters” showed up for the Democrats–partially stemming the projections that Democrats would continue to lose voters of color.
  • “Overall, Black voters remain the most consistent supporters of Democrats — their vote share dropped 4 points since 2018, and just 1 point since the last presidential election, according to preliminary exit polling.”
  • “[T]he majority of white voters and Native Americans went for Republicans.”
  • Support for the Democratic Party among AAIP voters appears to be the most volatile and unstable.
  • “The battle for the Latino vote was more contested than ever this election cycle, between GOP hopes for gains and the group recently becoming the second-largest voting bloc in the country.” My personal take, for what it is worth, is: Latino vote trends in Florida needs to be disaggregated from trends elsewhere for any analysis to be meaningful.
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Eyes Turn to Georgia–and Impact of Democratic Control on Turnout in the Run Off

Atlanta Journal Constitution reports on the how the Walker and Warnock campaigns are reacting to the news that Democrats have maintained their 50 seats in the Senate. The Warnock campaign is urging early voting and its allies are reframing the “race as a crucial 51st vote to better insulate Democrats from the whims of U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.” Meanwhile, the Walker campaign is clearly worried that it will be difficult to turnout Republicans now that the Senate is not in play. This seems reasonable since I would have thought they should already have been a little concerned about turnout given Brian Kemp won handily. Meanwhile, the AP reports on how the narrower window for early voting works and its potential impact on Democratic turnout.

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“Where Democrats’ Grip on Minority Voters Could Slip in Midterm Elections”

Unfortunately, behind a firewall, the WSJ offers an interesting and nuanced analysis of the likely impact of increased support among voters of color for the Republican Party. The bottom line is turnout next month will be key. As per usual, a low turnout election will benefit Republicans whereas a high turnout election offers the Democratic Party its best chance.

“Black voters are a prime example of the balance between voter turnout and party preference. The median shift toward Mr. Trump in heavily Black neighborhoods was 1.5 percentage points. But Democrats retained overwhelming support among Black voters, winning about 90% of their votes. That suggests that Democrats gained substantially more from higher Black turnout than the party lost in defectors to the GOP.”

The analysis is based on a study of census tracts in which 70% of residents are persons of color. The WSJ compared how those neighborhoods voted in 2020 as compared to 2016. The study– which includes charts if you have access–confirms the consensus that the Republican Party did make inroads with nonwhite voters in 2020. But it offers a nuanced analysis:

“National figures show that U.S. Latino, Asian-American and Black voters backed President Joe Biden in 2020, though by smaller margins than Democrats won four years earlier. At the same time, more of these voters turned out than in 2016, producing a net gain in votes in many places for Democrats.”

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“With eye to Tuesday and next year, Atlanta Democrats worry about voter turnout”

Washington Post

The Article’s primary focus is on the partisan stakes, but the big picture here is the vicious cycle of low voter turnout, policy responsiveness, apathy, and machine politics.

Across Atlanta, . . . [Just a] year after residents voted in historic numbers to help “turn Georgia blue,” fewer than 3 out 10 turned out for the mayor’s race, despite the widespread desire for a leader who can help the city rebound from a year of setbacks.

Why? A combination of apathy and a failure to mobilize voters around local issues.

Kendra Cotton, chief operating officer for the New Georgia Project, founded by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, said that her group is still in the process of “educating the electorate that we registered.”

“Folks, particularly when you think about the progressive side of the aisle, have ceded local races, county races, state races and have put an emphasis on national races,” she said. 

And the results are predictable:

Younger voters, non-homeowners and newly registered voters in particular . . . didn’t participate, even though the campaign included extensive debate over the future of policing and how to deliver social services in the most populated city in the Deep South.

“Despite the social justice movement that just happened in 2020, it should tell you something that people felt a greater urge of necessity to come out and protest for social change than they did to participate in a local municipal election,” [Atlanta City Council member Antonio] Brown said.

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