• August 20, 2022
  • Jordan Jaffe

What Will Turnout Look Like in the 2022 Midterms?

Participation in the last two elections set 100-year records. Voting in many primaries this year is the highest in decades. Here's what government affairs teams need to know about turnout trends.

It was only a few years ago that voter turnout in federal elections was sluggish—especially in non-presidential years—and political analysts complained routinely that Americans should pay more attention to civic duty. But that has changed a lot, even in midterms.

The last midterm election in 2018 saw the highest turnout for a non-presidential election in 100 years at 49.3% of eligible voters. Turnout in the 2020 election, which included a presidential race, was the highest in 120 years, with almost two thirds of the eligible population participating.

There is evidence that this year’s election could see high turnout as well. Primaries in several states have seen the largest number of voters in decades, sometimes vastly exceeding numbers in previous midterms. Overall, turnout across states with primaries held before early August is up about 4% over 2018, according to a CNN analysis of states where complete data was available.

Turnout Could Be High This Year

In today’s world, there is much at stake in every federal election and November’s midterms are no different. In Washington, the entire House and about a third of the Senate will face voters. The outcome will determine which party controls Congress, which in turn will impact the Biden administration’s capabilities and which party has an edge in the 2024 presidential race. In the states, 36 governorships will be decided alongside legislatures in 46 states. That will impact legislation on a variety of issues in next year’s legislative sessions.

Overall, there are roughly 7,000 seats on the ballot nationwide, and more than 18,000 candidates, according to Capitol Canary data. The results will impact almost every issue, and the outcome could alter reality for many government affairs teams.

Of course, victory in any election requires candidates and political parties to get people to the polls, and primaries in some states have already shown that voters are motivated this year. Some examples:

  • Wisconsin. In the state’s August primary, turnout was the highest in 40 years.
  • Pennsylvania. In the state’s June primary, turnout was the highest in 20 years.
  • North Carolina. In the state’s primary in May, turnout was the highest in 20 years.
  • Kansas. In the state’s August primary, in which a controversial amendment to remove abortion rights from the state constitution was defeated, turnout reached almost 47%, more than double the turnout in 2014.
  • Georgia. The primary in May set a midterm record for early voting in the state, increasing 168% over 2018.

5 Things Your Team Needs to Know About Election Turnout

More government affairs teams are getting involved in get-out-the-vote efforts. Nonprofits like the Amputee Coalition and companies like Expedia Group have run successful GOTV programs, and many organizations will join them this year in helping people get to the polls.

While voting trends are a science parsed and studied in great detail by an entire industry of political analysts, many of whom use different methodologies, government affairs teams can dial in their programs by learning a few basics from well-known sources.

For teams looking to increase turnout among your audience, here are five things to take into account as we head toward November’s election, which is now less than 100 days away.

  1. Young People Were Active Last Time. While the common wisdom is that older people vote and younger people don’t, Americans 18-29 saw huge gains in 2018, according to the U.S. Census. Only 20% of voters in that age range voted in 2014, a percentage that increased to 36% in 2018. That’s a 79% jump, the largest of any age group.
  2. Minority Groups Showed Huge Gains. All major racial and ethnic groups showed big gains in 2018, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Asian, Black and Hispanic voters all saw double-digit percentage gains. The number of Latino voters nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018.
  3. Women Generally Outpace Men. Women have voted at slightly higher rates than men in the last six midterm elections, according to an analysis by Pew Research Center. In 2018, more than 55% of eligible women voted, compared to about 52% of eligible men. As a percentage of the electorate, women were 53% in 2018 while men were 47%, numbers that changed little from previous midterms. Only women over 65 voted less than men, 65% to 68%.
  4. Educated Americans Are More Likely to Vote. Americans with higher levels of education had higher levels of turnout in 2018, according to the Census. Those with less than a high school diploma saw a 5-percentage-point increase in turnout over 2014. Those with a diploma saw an 8-point increase. Those with a bachelor’s degree saw a 12.5-point increase.
  5. Alternative Voting is Increasing. Alternative voting, which means casting a vote by mail or any means other than in person, was used by almost 40% of the electorate in 2018, according to the Census. That’s a major jump over about 31% in 2014.

Much will be written in the coming weeks about turnout and what to expect, and the list of variables that could impact voting is long. The national economy, consumer prices, state abortion laws and federal investigations into former President Donald Trump are just some of the issues on that list. All have the potential to mobilize voters. Whether Republicans or Democrats emerge on top, don’t be surprised if turnout in the 2022 midterms remains high.