On Tuesday, November 8, Americans will head to the polls to vote in elections that will determine which party will control the House of Representatives and the Senate for the next two years, as well as fill many state-level legislative and executive positions.
If history is any guide, a relatively small fraction of American adults who are eligible to vote will actually do so, perhaps less than half. An August poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 36% of registered voters said they had “thought a lot” about the upcoming election.
The share of Americans who vote is likely to be older and whiter than the population at large. According to Pew’s data, 50% of registered voters age 65 or older have given much thought to the election, compared to only 20% of those between the ages of 18 and 29.
40% of white registered voters said they had given the election a lot of thought, compared with 30% of Hispanic voters, 27% of black voters and 17% of Asian voters.
Income and Education
Other key factors that correlate with engagement in the upcoming election include education levels and income levels.
According to Pew’s data, engagement with the upcoming election was highest among people with advanced college degrees, at 40%.
Interestingly, only 34% of college graduates without an advanced degree report high engagement, while those with some college but no bachelor’s degree report the same level of engagement as those with postgraduate degrees, 40%. Engagement was lowest among those with no high school education or whose highest education level was a high school diploma, at 32%.
In general, wealthier Americans are, on average, more likely to vote than non-wealthy. US Census data shows that in 2020, 85% of people in households with incomes above $150,000 voted, while only 72% of people in households with incomes between $50,000 and $74,999 voted and those with incomes between $15,000 and $19,999. Only 50% of people in households voted.
Economy is a major issue
While there were plenty of headline-grabbing issues in US news reports last year, the state of the economy was seen as the most important factor considering most voters in November. When asked how important it is to them, 77% of people polled by Pew rated it very important.
With inflation running high, more than 8% year-over-year, and threats of recession, it’s no wonder voters are paying attention to the issue.
That news could be damaging to the Democrats, who currently hold both the White House and the Houses of Congress. In midterm elections, the sitting president’s party almost always loses seats in Congress. This year, Republicans are hoping that this dynamic will help them control one or both chambers, with margins already slim.
Effect of abortion
However, general turnout trends may hold true in 2022, with the potential for a shift in margins. While still likely to turn out in lower numbers than their older counterparts, anger over the Supreme Court’s June ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, an earlier decision that created federal protections for abortion rights, could boost turnout among young voters in November. .
“Anger is a good mobiliser,” Lisa Bryant, an assistant professor of political science at California State University, Fresno, told VOA. “It sounds counterintuitive, but people turn away when they’re angry.”
The abortion issue can also increase participation among women, she said.
“The Democratic Party, and especially women, who make up a large part of the Democratic Party, are outraged by the Roe decision,” Bryant said. “I think that will motivate a lot of people to come this year.”
Voters motivated by the abortion ruling could somewhat bridge the turnout gap between the youngest and oldest American voters, she said.
“Young women are signing up in record numbers and saying they intend to come in record numbers,” Bryant said. “So we’re going to see that gap close a little bit this year.”
Jan Leighley, a professor of political science at American University’s School of Public Affairs, told VOA there are other reasons to question whether the conventional wisdom about midterm voting will necessarily hold in 2022.
Pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic disruption and uncertainty, controversial Supreme Court rulings and the ongoing investigation into former President Donald Trump, Leighley said it would be unwise to assume that past patterns of behavior will necessarily persist in 2022.
“It’s not a new normal, but maybe old processes have changed,” she said. “Maybe we’re still in an adjustment period.”
In particular, she said, it will affect people’s tendency to vote in ways that have not been the case in previous elections.
“People have cross-pressures,” she said. “And how they put all those pieces together, I think, changes the rational decision of whether you vote or not, especially for people who haven’t voted before.”
Federal elections in the United States are held every two years, and one-third of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for grabs, as well as all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Because US presidents serve four-year terms, every other election is considered a “presidential” election, and those held two years later, at the midpoint of the sitting president’s term, are called “midterms.”
Historically, presidential elections have attracted significantly higher voter turnout than midterms. Michael P., a professor of political science at the University of Florida. According to the US Elections Project maintained by McDonald’s, turnout in US presidential elections has ranged between 49% and 65% of the eligible voting population in recent years. 100 years.
For midterms, turnout has declined significantly, remaining between 33% and 49% for most of the past 100 years.
However, in the last two federal elections, turnout was markedly higher than in recent years. In the 2018 midterm elections, turnout reached 50%, the highest since 1914. In the 2020 presidential election, 66.7% of the eligible population voted, the highest percentage since 1900.
Political scientists say recent turnout levels have been boosted by Trump, a polarizing political figure, reaching both sides of the political aisle. In addition, measures taken in 2020 to make voting easier during the COVID-19 pandemic may also lead to higher voter turnout.
Because there are different ways of measuring voter participation across countries, it can be difficult to compare. Some consider the turnout of people of voting age. Others consider only the percentage of people eligible to vote (excluding, for example, resident aliens). Others measure the percentage of people registered to vote who actually show up to vote.
However, by most measures, participation in the United States lags behind many of its peers, notably Belgium and Australia, where mandatory voting laws dictate participation rates of around 80%.
For example, data collected by Pew Research showed that among all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, only Slovenia, Latvia, Chile, Luxembourg and Switzerland had lower voter turnout rates than the United States.