By Robert A. Vella
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
That lyric from the best protest song ever written, in my personal opinion, sums up well what we’re seeing across the nation shortly before the pivotal November midterm elections. New voter registrations and other circumstantial evidence indicates that voter enthusiasm is way up this year. How it translates into actual electoral results is a different question, however.
Just because potential voters register or request absentee ballots does not mean they will vote in an election; but, higher numbers of registrations and ballot requests does mean that voter turnout will also typically be higher. Furthermore, these higher raw numbers are not in itself indicative of how people will vote. If enthusiasm is greater on one side or the other, then that will be more determinative of the outcome. Additionally, midterms are not national elections; they are influenced by the conditions and dynamics present in individual states and individual congressional districts.
With those qualifications established, there are still some observations and assessments which can be made:
- President Trump, as an extremely polarizing political figure, will likely be on most people’s minds when they vote. Consequently, the midterms will be a national referendum on his presidency at least to some degree.
- Trump’s controversial appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, will also be a polarizing issue especially for women voters and hardcore conservatives.
- Young people, who have the worst voter turnout numbers by far, appear to be more engaged this year. As a demographic group, they tend to be more liberal than older groups.
- Opinion polls have shown consistent disapproval of President Trump among Independent voters.
- Republicans have enjoyed a general voter enthusiasm and turnout advantage over Democrats for several decades; however, the potential base of the Democratic Party is larger than that of the GOP. Therefore, Democrats have a greater capacity to expand the electorate.
Since Taylor Swift flexed her star power Sunday with an Instagram post that encouraged her 112 million followers to register to vote, Vote.org has experienced an unprecedented flood of new voter registrations nationwide.
“We are up to 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period since T. Swift’s post,” said Kamari Guthrie, director of communications for Vote.org.
For context, 190,178 new voters were registered nationwide in the entire month of September, while 56,669 were registered in August.
In Swift’s home state of Tennessee, where she voiced support for two Democratic candidates running in this year’s midterms, voter registrations have also jumped.
“Vote.org saw [Tennessee] registrations spike specifically since Taylor’s post,” Guthrie said. The organization has received 5,183 in the state so far this month — at least 2,144 of which were in the last 36 hours, she said, up from 2,811 new Tennessee voter registrations for the entire month of September and just 951 in August.
A stacked local ballot and national political intrigue — and maybe an Instagram post from one of the world’s most popular pop stars — are the likely drivers behind an increase in voter registrations across the state and in King County for this year’s midterm elections.
King County Elections Director Julie Wise said her team has been working through weekends because of the volume of questions and requests from voters and potential voters for the first midterm since 2014. “This is busy,” she said. “There is a lot of buzz and energy. It feels more buzzy than 2014.”
If voter registration is an indicator of voter interest, then turnout this year could outstrip that of the midterm election four years ago. In the year leading up to the 2014 midterms, 201,949 people registered statewide. So far this year, the state has seen 258,219 voters register. King County registration jumped by nearly half — from 61,191 in 2014 to 91,239 new voters through the past 12 months.
According to Vote.org, which works to register voters across the nation, as of Friday 434,763 people have registered through the site since Swift’s post. During that same time period in 2016 405,149 had registered. In 2016 41 percent of the newly registered were younger than 30. That number jumped to 65 percent for this year’s election.
OLATHE, Kan. — On Tuesday, Jackson County election officials reported a surge in people signing up to vote for the 2018 elections. Across the state line in Kansas, officials with the Johnson County Election Board also reported an increase in registrations.
So far 413,276 Johnson County voters have registered for the midterm elections. That number is more than any other midterm and president election in the past.
The election board reported there are 186,300 registered Republications, 111,800 unaffiliated voters and 110,600 Democrats.
Following a national trend, voter registration continues to soar in Connecticut, especially among young people, who traditionally have weak participation in elections.
According to data from the Connecticut Secretary of State’s office, from the 2016 election through the end of September, 103,436 new voters registered as Democrats, compared to 53,371 who registered as Republicans. But many more Connecticut residents — 168,090 –registered as unaffiliated voters.
Although voter registration in Connecticut has surged for all age groups, the biggest increase is among young voters, aged 18 to 25.
The number of Maryland Democratic voters requesting absentee ballots has more than doubled this year over the 2014 election cycle, an increase that party officials call a sign of a “blue wave” unfolding in Maryland.
“We see this is an enthusiasm advantage,” said Kathleen Matthews, chair of the state Democratic Party. “We think it confirms the blue wave that we’ve been pointing to.”
With less than a month before Election Day, 45,543 Democrats have asked for absentee ballots, compared with 24,831 independents and Republicans. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2 to 1 in the state.
More than half of voters who have asked for absentee ballots did not vote in the 2014 election, Matthews said, citing data she said the party received from the state Board of Elections. Sixty percent of the requests came from female voters, she said.
Missouri’s Republican Attorney General and Senate candidate Josh Hawley said he has seen a noticeable increase in anger among voters in the wake of the bitter Kavanaugh confirmation fight.
“There’s a noticeable change in atmosphere here in the state and a noticeable surge in enthusiasm among Republican voters,” Hawley said. “But also, I would say a noticeable surge in anger among all voters in my state.”
Voter registrations are surging in Minnesota, especially among young adults. New state data released at the end of last week show that 52,644 new voters have registered to vote so far this year — more than double the number of new voters registered at this time in 2014, the last year in which the state held a gubernatorial election.
And two-thirds of the new voter registrations so far — 35,608 people — are 18 to 30 years old.
The spike comes after the state in August saw the highest primary turnout since 1994.
“I think people are fired up to vote on both sides,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon.
It may not be the signs of a “blue wave.”
But a new report from the Secretary of State’s Office suggests that Arizona Democrats appear to be more energized this year than Republicans. And that may translate to victories in races that in any other year they could not win.
The latest figures show that for every person who registered with the GOP since March, the Democrats registered more than three.