Analyzing Midterm Turnout

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 26, 2018 — Preliminary final turnout numbers are being reported from around the country and the analysis suggests some surprising conclusions.

As we know, the 2018 midterm turnout was certainly the highest for like elections in this century and featured one of the top participation rates of all time. And, according to research completed at the University of Florida’s United States Elections Project, turnout exceeded the previous midterm (2014) in 48 of the 50 states with Alaska and Louisiana being the lone exceptions.

In some states, 2018 turnout actually came close to the state’s presidential participation mark in 2016. Montana placed highest. Their 2018 aggregate turnout number was 98.7 percent that of the 2016 presidential rate, with an estimated 510,000 voters (once a certified final count is produced) participating earlier this month versus 516,901 in 2016.

Overall, 11 states recorded turnout numbers for the Nov. 6 election that exceeded 90 percent of their 2016 presidential turnout aggregate total. In addition to Montana, they are:

  • Georgia (94.8 percent of 2016 total)
  • North Dakota (94.5 percent)
  • Oregon (93.1 percent)
  • Texas (92.9 percent)
  • Washington (92.8 percent)
  • Utah (91.6 percent)
  • Hawaii (91.2 percent)
  • Arizona (90.6 percent)
  • South Dakota (90.2 percent)
  • Colorado (90.1 percent)

Another 29 states fell between 80.2 (Rhode Island) and 89.7% (Tennessee) of their 2016 turnout number.

The combined number of states that exceeded 80 percent of their 2016 total is so large that the national average in comparing 2018 to 2016 is 84.1 percent. This compares to a 60.0 percent average when paralleling 2014 aggregate turnout to 2016. But, even the lowest turnout state in 2018, Louisiana, shattered the average comparison to 2016. In the Bayou State, the 2018 participation number was 71.2 percent that of 2016. To put this in perspective, the 2014 low in comparison to 2016 was Nevada at just 49.1 percent.

Interestingly, the highest turnout states did not account for the bulk of the House swing. In the 11 states that exceeded 90 percent of their 2016 presidential turnout number, Democrats gained a total of just seven of their 39 conversions in these places. They netted 17 in the 23 states that recorded figures above the average 84.1 percent of 2016 turnout, but 22 in the below average states. In two of the Democrats’ best states for flipping House races, New York and New Jersey, the domains fell in the bottom four of increased turnout, 74.5 percent and 71.4 percent, respectively, when compared to 2016.

Of the six states that changed parties in Senate elections (four from D to R and two from R to D), five (North Dakota, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Missouri) were in the above average category, while just one (Indiana) is below the average when compared to 2016. All produced higher participation numbers in 2018 than in the 2014 midterm election.

In the 12 closest governors’ elections, seven states were among the 23 above-average turnout entities, while five were below. Of the eight states that flipped a governors’ chair (seven from R to D and one from I to R), four recorded above-average turnout in comparison to 2016 and four were below. Of the 14 states that did not host a 2018 governor’s race, six were above the turnout average comparison to 2016 while eight were below.

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