A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter.Sign up for free to receive it in your inbox here.
When the Democrats won the House of Representatives in 2018, they were helped by a significant turnout boost, achieving the highest midterm voter turnout in over 100 years.
Yet half of the population eligible to vote did not participate.
Early voting surges in some areas this year But when I spoke with University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald, who is known for tracking early voting data, he predicted voter turnout would fall below 2018 levels.
McDonald’s has released a new book analyzing the big wins of the 2020 presidential election, which was voted by nearly 67% of voters. His US Elections Project website has more information about the book and his early voting tracker.
We talked about what people should learn from the last election and what he sees as he tracks early voting data for the current election.
Below is a condensed version of our long phone conversation.
wolf: You wrote a book about this kind of amazing democratic achievement of voting during a pandemic. What do you want people to take away from that research?
McDonald’s: We must give election officials, the volunteers who staffed the polls, and the voters themselves a lot of credit for participating in the highest turnout in a presidential election since 1900. not.
No one who voted in the 2020 election voted in the previous election, which had a high voter turnout. That’s really quite an achievement. We have accomplished something historic under extraordinary circumstances. That’s very positive news.
Unfortunately, another lesson to be learned from this book comes from[former President Donald]’s rhetoric, his relentless attack on voting that occurred during the election. Trump, and just filter this party.It’s the destruction of democracy and we can see it and happening in real time 2022 election.
wolf: You mentioned the highest voter turnout in 100 years in 2020. I saw in the book that turnout for the 2018 midterm elections was his highest since 1914. Participate in more elections. what do you think about it
McDonald’s: The last time we recorded very high voter turnout was in the late 1800s, a period of intense polarization. We don’t have survey data so we can’t ask voters if they were polarized, but what was happening among federally elected officials mirrors what was happening among voters. It can be inferred that
So we have entered an era of higher polarization. I can point out the cause. But whatever the cause, what really led people to believe that it really mattered who was running the government, and that it was their side that was running the government I’m sure.
When people realize the differences between political parties and the importance that policy differences have on their lives, they are more likely to vote.
That’s the old curse: May you live in interesting times. We live in interesting times. People are very interested in politics and are passionate about elections.
wolf: of 1880s, America had Nearly 80% voter turnout. It could be argued that rising voter turnout is in some ways a wake-up call for democracy.
McDonald’s: I hope people get involved for altruistic reasons, want to be good citizens, weigh their options carefully, and make rational decisions about who to vote for.
Some have looked back at political science reports from the 1950s and lamented that there was no difference between political parties, that they were falling apart and, unless corrected, were heading toward the collapse of American democracy. party.
Lo and behold, political parties are stronger in the voter base than they are today, so you have to be careful what you want. And now people are thinking.
What is the happy medium of an avid voter? But are you so partisan that you believe politics is so important that you want to take violent action on some occasions?
wolf: You are very well known for tracking early voting data. What does it actually tell us before Election Day?
McDonald’s: The first time I started tracking early voting was the 2008 exit poll organization election. They wanted to know the size of early voting so they could give the survey the proper weight.
And as a skylark, I posted it online. He had a million visits to her website that he created as a skylark, and he knew that in some ways he had done something special and special. And if you look at a lot of data journalism that’s going on today, it’s similar to what I’m doing. That is, getting some kind of management data to tell a story in some way.
To answer the question of where we are in early voting…what you want to do is take all the information we can knit together and try to figure out where we are So I don’t think early voting alone will tell us what’s going on. Similarly, I don’t think polls alone will tell us anything definitive about how an election will go.
There is an error in your vote. Early voting has nuances and measurement issues.
wolf: What will I see in early voting?
McDonald’s: You are not just given a ballot or given the opportunity to vote on a ballot. They have to actually want to vote on that ballot, and there is a lot of interest in voting, especially in the very high-profile, high-tier elections going on in the U.S. Senate or some gubernatorial elections. That’s for sure. They seem to attract voters.
What we see in these states is a high level of early voting. We see a lot of democratic engagement.
What we often see in midterm elections is that the party that holds the presidency is punished in some way. For some reason, people find reason to get outraged and get involved because of what the administration has done.
But in these races we are not We are watching a kind of referendum on President Biden. In fact, look at the polls: People who don’t appreciate (President Joe) Biden says he will still vote for the Democratic candidate. What’s happening here is that the election has moved from a referendum on Biden to a choice between candidates.
Looking elsewhere in the country, we do not see the same level of engagement. Without that engagement, the election could become a Biden referendum, with split results, as many polls have shown.
If the Democrats lose the House, it could be at least partially because voters haven’t found a reason to vote in a state like California.
That’s the challenge for Democrats when they went into early voting last week. Where there is not this high-profile marquee race that drives people to the polls, how do you revitalize the base to vote at the same level that Republicans do?
wolf: can we Do you think some of your concerns about restrictive new voting laws were unfounded because voter turnout in certain states was so high and so many people were using early voting?
McDonald’s: I give a silly, completely silly response to it. But it has a point. What do you know about this election? We are seeing massive voter suppression happening in this election.
Looking back at the 2020 presidential election, voter turnout is down across the board in every state. There was massive voter suppression in this election.
Of course you think it’s silly. It’s funny that voter turnout is higher in presidential elections than in midterm elections.
Just because a state like Georgia has an interesting election campaign doesn’t mean that SB 202, the law passed in Georgia, has made it easier for everyone to vote. situation. This does not mean that there are certain communities that have not been left out.
A good example of this is when you look at Georgia, which sees mail-in ballots drop by about half despite having a record number of in-person early voters. you might say. Those who vote by mail either vote in person or vote. Election Day or Early Voting.
There may be people who, for whatever reason, need to go home and cannot get to the polling place and have to vote by mail. And those people may not be able to participate to the same extent as others in Georgia.
Just because Georgia has a high turnout for early voting doesn’t mean the law was ineffective in stifling certain communities in Georgia.
wolf: Another emerging storyline in this election is the move to the Republican Party in Florida, driven by the Republican turnaround. Hispanics and Latinos Vote RepublicanIs there anything from early voting that supports or refutes it? And do you agree with that larger narrative?
McDonald’s: We don’t know how people vote, so we can’t answer that question with the available data.
After all, early voting in a typical election usually wins Democrats, or at least registered Democrats. This election cycle, the Republicans are winning early voting.
So far, as of (Nov. 2), registered Republicans have an advantage of about 180,000 votes in both mail-in ballots and in-person early voting, and most of that advantage is actually voted in-person. is obtained by
Yet all these Democrats have mail-in ballots. And here’s the interesting thing: They’re not giving them back. Not to the same extent or proportion as the Republicans.
So, looking at the response rates as of Nov. 2, 48% of Democrats have returned their mail-in ballots compared to 55% of Republicans. So these are people with mail ballots, and there’s a huge disparity in voter turnout among them.
Part of what’s happening in Florida is a self-fulfilling prophecy that people who don’t believe the Democrats can win aren’t voting. .
wolf: Will 2022 voter turnout surpass the 2018 midterm elections?
McDonald’s: We see a high voter turnout. Georgia will likely surpass voter turnout in 2018. And so may some other states like Pennsylvania.
However, larger states such as California, New York, and Texas are very likely not to see the same level of engagement. There may be some heterogeneity due to the lack of uniform elections.
I can’t believe it goes all the way back to 2014. This was the lowest voter turnout since 1942. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls short of 2018.