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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

October 21, 2018

Heading into Closing Weeks, Democrats Still Enjoy Significant Enthusiasm Advantage

Elections / Midterm / National

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Just two weeks before the midterm elections, voters are expressing more interest than ever to vote in 2018 than they were for past election cycles. Typically, voter turnout decreases sharply during midterm elections. In 2014, only 37% of eligible voters cast ballots, five points lower than the 42% of eligible voters who voted in 2010. Notably, 2014 marked the lowest level of voter turnout in more than half a century.

Amid the current political climate, 2018 is shaping up to see a large number of people turn out to vote. Nearly 20% of registered voters, approximately 37 million people, cast their ballots in House primary elections. Democratic voter turnout in the primaries rose by 4.6%, accounting for 10.8% of all registered voters. Republican turnout increased by 1.2%, accounting for 8.7% of eligible voters casting their ballots in House primaries.

Turnout was also high in senate and gubernatorial primaries. A total of 22.2% of registered voters, or 29.2 million people, cast their ballots in the Senate primaries. This is a sharp increase from 2014 where only 16.6% of voters turned out in Senate primaries. Republicans took the lead in these primaries, with 12.5% turnout compared to Democrat’s 9.5% turnout. However, both Republicans and Democrats saw increased participation rates, with a respective 2.5 and 2.9 percent increase from the 2014 midterms.

The gubernatorial primaries had the highest turnout rate, with 36.3 million people, or 24.5% of registered voters, turning out to cast their ballot. This figure is up by 17.1% from 2014, where only 23.1 million citizens turned out to vote in the gubernatorial primaries. Democrats and Republicans had a comparable turnout rate for this primary, with 12.1% of Democratic voters and 12.3% of Republican voters turning out. Overall, Democrats saw the greatest uptick in voter turnout at a 4.1% overall increase since 2014.

Elevated primary turnout levels indicate that Americans are distinctly enthusiastic about the 2018 midterms. According to a recent Washington Post – ABC News poll, enthusiasm and salience have increased across all demographics, with 66% of respondents saying that voting in this year’s elections is more important than past ones.

Among all registered voters, 77% articulated that they were “absolutely certain to vote,” which is an increase of 12 percentage points since October 2014. The most notable shifts in certainty to vote were seen in young, Democratic, non-white voters.

Democratic voters reported a sharp increase in enthusiasm. Four years ago, 63% of voters said they would absolutely vote whereas 81% say they will absolutely vote in this year’s elections. Furthermore, 67% of Americans ages 18-39 said they would absolutely vote this November, compared to 42% who said the same in 2014. Among non-white registered voters, 72% articulated that they are certain to vote which is a 24% increase from October 2014.

Additionally, white men without a college degree represent the one heavily Republican demographic whose certainty to vote is lower than average since 2014. However, there is a significant gender gap when it comes to voter enthusiasm. Enthusiasm among white women with college degrees is up 15 percentage points to 88%. White women without degrees also increased in voter enthusiasm by 12 percentage points.

This poll also found that registered voters nationwide prefer a Democratic candidate over a Republican candidate 53 to 42 percent on a generic ballot. While this is a notable lead, the accuracy is completely dependent on whether or not Democratic voters follow through on their word and show up to the polls this November.

Historically, there has been a close correlation between approval or disapproval of the sitting president and voting intentions in midterm elections. However, President Trump’s approval rating has recently increased by 5 points to place him at a 43% approval rating. With more voters invested in the midterms than ever, the enthusiasm benefits Democrats.

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