2022 midterms: And we’re off
Early votes are in and predictions are still out
More than 40 million American voters cast early ballots in the midterm elections, representing record surges in at least six swing states. Georgia officials have begun processing 2.5 million ballots, and no-excuse mail-in voting in Pennsylvania prompted 80,000 young voters to send in their votes. While midterms historically see lower voter turnout compared to presidential elections, persistent inflation, rising crime rates, and abortion law are forcing 2022 voters to pay attention.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49 percent of Americans voted in the 2018 elections, making it—at that time—the most highly participated-in midterm in American history. The 2014 midterms produced the lowest turnout since World War II at just 36.3 percent. Early voting this time around seems to indicate 2022 may be on a trajectory to break the record once again.
What does this tell us about possible election results? M.V. “Trey” Hood, University of Georgia political science professor and director of UGA’s Survey Research Center, said not to put too much stock into projections based on early voting. Recent surveys by Gallup reported that, nationwide, more Democrats than Republicans planned to cast their ballots early, in keeping with election trends. But in Georgia, GOP voters outnumbered their Democratic counterparts at voting centers during the past two weeks. Hood said any trend is up for grabs this year.
“If people are just shifting the time that they’re voting, that doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the overall election outcome,” he told WORLD. “The process in Georgia for early voting looks exactly the same as voting on Election Day. [It looks] like Republican voters are realizing they can’t just sit at home and not vote. But we can’t project anything about overall turnout until after Tuesday.”
Georgia is shattering some records of its own. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that his office recorded 2.5 million ballots cast as of Friday. Only 1.9 million were cast ahead of Election Day in 2018, with nearly 2.7 million in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted most voters nationwide to avoid going to the polls in person.
This year’s turnout is part of the state’s first election cycle since the passage of Senate Bill 202, nicknamed by President Joe Biden and opponents as “Jim Crow 2.0.” The state law updated voting processes, limiting pandemic measures such as increased outdoor drop boxes and universal mail-in ballot applications. While Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has called the bill a way to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” his Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams labeled it voter suppression. But Democrat-led claims that it disenfranchises voters don’t appear to square with the numbers.
Based on early returns, voters might be more motivated to cast their ballots this cycle even though recent studies on voter confidence showed that fewer Americans trust the electoral process since the past two election cycles. A Pew Research study released on Oct. 31 found more Republicans than Democrats have become more skeptical about the voting process. Roughly 56 percent of registered Republican voters said they expect the vote counts to run somewhat well or very well, a drastic decline compared to 87 percent in 2018. Of those respondents, most said they distrust mail-in ballots the most, but those account for the vast majority of early votes this cycle: nearly 7 million from Democrats and 4.6 million from Republicans.
The shadow of election fraud looms over several states, largely kept alive by claims from former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him. In Berks County, Pa., law enforcement officers were stationed outside voting centers and asked voters to confirm the pre-filled ballot they were bringing was their own. An Arizona federal judge ordered masked and armed members of Clean Elections USA to stay 250 feet away after reports that they were patrolling early voting centers and 24-hour ballot boxes in Maricopa County.
Hood said mixed messaging on voter fraud leaves Republican trends uncertain: “I have continued to ask this question, and seven out of 10 Republican voters in Georgia still think Biden won through fraud. I don’t know if that number is ever going to change at this point. If Trump is saying that the election was fraudulent, why would people show up and vote? But more Republicans have voted early anyway. I think they’re realizing if they just don’t engage in the process, they don’t have a voice at all.”
But theories on election security rank low on the list of what’s motivating the bulk of 2022 voters. The economy remains their highest priority. Sixty-five percent of Democrats and 92 percent of Republicans say that the issue is “very important” to their vote in the 2022 congressional elections. Those two make for a combined 79 percent of participating respondents, indicating a high level of interest across the board.
According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Foundation, a left-leaning health research firm, half of all respondents said they were “more motivated to vote than usual” in the 2022 midterms, with 53 percent of women attributing abortion-related policy as a motivating factor.
In most states, the final results won’t be clear by the end of Election Day. Certifying mail-in voting, varying processes in different states, and allowances for “late” voting all may extend the finalization of election results. States individually determine when results must be verified, and some states are laxer than others. Voters across the country should expect to have results certified over the course of the following week—even in states like Delaware where the state’s code imposes the nation’s most stringent certification deadline of Nov. 10.
University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who runs the U.S. Elections Project, has been tracking voting data since 2008. In a recent interview with CNN, he predicted that overall turnout will still fall below 2018, but he admitted that early voting only gives a fuzzy picture. He also said higher polarization likely contributes to a stronger push to vote this year.
“When people perceive [the wide gap] between the parties and the importance the policy differences make on their lives, they’re more likely to vote,” McDonald said. “It’s that old curse: May you live in interesting times. We live in interesting times. People are very interested in politics, and they are thus highly engaged in elections.”
Editor’s note: Visit the WORLD Election Center 2022 for live updates on every race.
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