Eight years ago, interest in midterm elections hit rock bottom. Just 37% of the voting eligible population turned out to vote – the lowest since World War II. Few could have predicted that America would have the highest midterm turnout in the last century just four years later .
A look at the data in this cycle suggests that we’re far more likely to see a repeat of 2018 and its high turnout than 2014. Already, more than 4.8 million ballots have been cast this year across 36 states in the 2022 midterms, according to updated data from election officials, Edison Research and Catalist.
Let’s start with the polling data. Last week, the CNN/SSRS poll found that 28% of registered voters said they were extremely enthusiastic about voting in this year’s midterm election. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s on the high side.
Four years ago at this point, 30% of registered voters said they were extremely enthusiastic about their voting. By comparison, only 23% and 15% said that in 2010 and 2014 respectively.
Importantly, there is a clear correlation between these percentages and the eventual turnout. The lowest turnout year (2014) had the lowest enthusiasm, the middle year for enthusiasm (2010) had the second highest turnout and the highest turnout year had the highest enthusiasm.
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This isn’t just one poll, either. CNN polling all year has pointed to high enthusiasm. At each point, 2022’s enthusiasm level was first or second to 2018’s.
Polling from other organizations largely shows the same thing. Voters told NBC News pollsters last month they were even more excited to vote than at the same point in 2018. A record 64% of voters said their interest in the election was a “9” or a “10” on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 indicating the highest level of interest.
This year’s level of interest exceeds the 58% in 2018, which was the previous record holder. It is 13 points higher than 51% in September 2014, which was the lowest since 2006.
The fact that enthusiasm and interest levels are so close to 2018 may be somewhat surprising. After all, Donald Trump, who had very strong supporters and detractors, is no longer president.
Voters, though, seem to think as much is on the line now as they did back in 2018. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 66% of Americans believe voting this midterm is more important than past midterms. That’s the same percentage who said the 2018 midterm was more important to vote in than past midterms.
Of course, polls are one thing and voting is something else. I would bet the polling translates to the ballot box this year, since voters have a lot to vote for in the most populated states. Almost all of them have both a gubernatorial and Senate race on the ballot. Texas is the exception with just a gubernatorial election on the ballot.
And if the primary elections are any indication, a lot of people will turn out. As I’ve noted before, more people turned out to vote during the primary season than in any cycle dating back to 2010. While primary turnout doesn’t necessarily predict general election turnout, the correlation over the last few cycles has been clear.
The highest primary turnout before 2022 was 2018, which had by far the highest general election turnout. The year with the lowest primary turnout, 2014, had by far the lowest general election turnout.
The biggest off-year general election this cycle also featured record turnout. Last year, in the hotly contested Virginia gubernatorial race, voter turnout was nearly 700,000 votes higher than it was in the 2017 election. The 2021 Virginia race was the first gubernatorial matchup to exceed 3 million votes cast in the state.
The Virginia race is notable too because it hints at something that might be surprising to some people. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican in that race, won. Most people associate higher turnout with better results for Democrats.
I don’t believe that is true. The higher turnout in this year’s primaries was because a lot more people were voting in Republican primaries than four years ago. Fewer people actually voted in Democratic primaries in 2022 than in 2018.
Additionally, Republicans were more likely to say in CNN polling that they were extremely enthusiastic about voting this year than Democrats.
We’ll have to see whether that enthusiasm makes a difference. Given the tightness in the race for control of the Senate, either side can use any turnout edge that they can get.
This story has been updated with additional information Thursday.