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What the Results of Early Voting May and Cannot Tell Us
The largest voter turnout for a midterm election in more than a century was recorded during the 2018 midterm elections, which helped Democrats win the House. However, just 50% of those who were eligible to vote did not participate.
Although early voting has increased significantly in some of the crucial states this year, according to Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who tracks early voting statistics, turnout will be lower than it was in 2018.
In his most recent book, McDonald analyses the monumental success of the 2020 presidential election, which saw nearly 67% of eligible voters cast ballots. On his US Elections Project website, he provides further information regarding the book and his early voting tracker.
We discussed the key lessons from the previous election as well as what he is discovering when monitoring early voting statistics for the current election. The chat we had on the phone, which lasted longer, is summarised below.
Lessons learned from 2020 WOLF About this incredible democratic accomplishment of voting during a pandemic, you wrote a book. What do you want readers to remember about that study? The election saw the largest turnout for a presidential election since 1900, and we must commend the election officials, volunteers who staffed the voting places, and the voters themselves.
Nobody alive who voted in the 2020 election also cast a ballot in the one where turnout was higher. That is a significant accomplishment. Under really difficult conditions, we were able to do something historic. The extremely good news is that.
The book also made me regrettably aware of the constant attacks on voting that took place throughout the election, which started with (former President Donald) Trump’s rhetoric and then spread throughout this party. With the 2022 election, we can witness the damage that has been done to democracy firsthand.
High turnout could be a sign of a very polarised society. In 2020, you mentioned having the largest turnout in 100 years. The book stated that the 2018 midterm election had the largest voter turnout since 1914. Both the number of persons challenging the legitimacy of elections and their participation in them is increasing. How do you interpret that?
The last time we experienced a very high turnout was in the late 1800s, which was also a time of significant polarization. We can’t go back and ask the people if they were polarised since we don’t have any poll data, but we can assume that what was going on among our elected officials in the federal government was also indicative of what was going on among the voters.
As a result, we are now in a period of greater polarization, and you can identify the causes of this. Whatever the reason, though, we have unquestionably arrived at a moment when people genuinely believe that it matters who runs the government and that it truly matters that their party is in charge.
People are more likely to vote when they recognize the distinctions between the parties and the significance the policies have on their daily lives. May you live in interesting times is an age-old curse. The era we live in is fascinating. Election participation is very high because people are tremendously interested in politics.
The ideal democratic compromise Nearly 80% of Americans voted in the 1880s. You may contend that in some ways, the higher turnout sounds an alarm for democracy. You would hope that people are involved in politics for benevolent motives, that they want to be good citizens, that they are carefully analyzing their options, and that they are making an informed decision regarding who they would vote for.
Some people have reflected on a political science paper from the 1950s and criticized the lack of distinction between the political parties, saying that until the parties are fixed, the United States will experience a decline in democracy.
As it turns out, you should be careful what you wish for because the parties are now more popular with voters than they have ever been in modern times, and some people are beginning to wonder if this is all a bit excessive.
What is the ideal balance between a politically active electorate and one that isn’t so enraged by partisanship that, in certain situations, it makes them want to use violence because they think politics is so important?
What Early Voting Statistics Reveal
WOLF: You’re widely recognized for keeping tabs on early voting statistics. What does it genuinely have to say to us before the election? MCDONALD: For the exit poll organization, I first began monitoring early voting during the 2008 presidential election. In order to properly weight their surveys, they needed to know how many people cast early ballots.
In addition, I simply placed it online for fun. After a website I made just for fun received a million visitors, I realized I’d done something unique and extraordinary in certain aspects. It’s more in the style of what I do, which is to take some administrative data and create a story with it in some way if you look at a lot of the data journalism that happens today.
What you want to do is take all the bits of information you can piece together and try to construct a picture of where we are in order to answer the question about where we are in the early vote. Therefore, I don’t think early voting alone provides a clear picture, just as I don’t think polling alone provides a clear picture of how the election will turn out.
Errors occur in polls. There are complexities and measuring problems with early voting. Not all events will inevitably see high turnouts. WOLF: What are some of the things that you are noticing throughout the early voting not simply that they receive a ballot or the chance to cast a ballot, says MCDONALD.
They must genuinely want to cast a ballot, and we can tell that there is a lot of desire in doing so, particularly in the highly publicized, prestigious elections currently taking place for the US Senate or some of the gubernatorial races. These appear to be attracting voters.
There are a lot of early voting opportunities in those states, as we can see. There is a lot of democratic participation currently. The party in power would likely face some sort of punishment in a midterm election, as is customary. People always find a reason to get outraged and involved over whatever the administration has done, regardless of the cause.
However, we are not witnessing a type of referendum on the Biden administration in these races. In fact, according to polls, voters who strongly disapprove of (President Joe) Biden are nonetheless planning to support the Democratic nominee. The election has changed from being a vote on Biden to be a choice between the contenders in this case.
We don’t observe the same amount of participation elsewhere in the nation. Without that involvement, the election becomes more of a Biden referendum, and there’s where we could see a divided result, as many surveys are indicating.
If Democrats do lose the House, it will probably be due in part to the fact that their supporters just didn’t have enough reason to cast a ballot in a state like California. That represents the dilemma for the Democrats as we enter the final week of early voting. In areas where you don’t have this high-profile marquee race that is luring voters to the polls, how can you motivate your base to vote at the same level that the Republicans are?