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JULY 13, 2023
Meyerson on TAP
The Midterms Weren’t as Abnormal as We’d Thought
Republicans’ (and old folks’) turnout eclipsed the Democrats’ (and young’uns’)—one reason why McCarthy is Speaker.
Last year’s midterm elections were more normal than we thought.

So far, virtually all the analysis and commentary (mine included) have focused on their singular abnormality: the fact that the Democrats weren’t wiped out, as parties in power (most particularly those with unpopular presidents) tend to be in midterms. Democrats held their razor-thin control of the Senate, lost the House only very narrowly, and won key statewide and state legislative contests. Women turned out to bolster pro-choice candidates, and Republican election deniers collapsed in a heap. To be sure, Democrats’ weakness among working-class voters extended beyond the white working class to what, for Democrats, was a disturbing percentage of the Latino working class as well. But that didn’t gainsay the fact that the Democrats did far better than those who expected a more “normal” midterm had anticipated.

All of that is still true, but it’s not the whole picture. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released a close study of last year’s electorate, which documented that Republicans’ turnout eclipsed the Democrats’ last November, which is why Kevin McCarthy is now the House Speaker.

What made the biggest difference was the drop-off in voter participation. Seventy-one percent of people who’d voted for Donald Trump in 2020 cast ballots in last year’s midterms, while just 67 percent of those who’d voted for Joe Biden turned out (or mailed in) to vote last year. A larger share of 2020 Biden voters cast their ballots for Republicans last year (7 percent) than the share of 2020 Trumpers who went Democratic (3 percent).

This advantage to the out-party is what you’d expect in a midterm election. Comparing 2022 turnout not just to that in 2020, but also to that in 2018, when out-party Democrats surged to the polls in a display of Trump revulsion, Pew found:

People who voted in 2018 who did not turn out in 2022 (“drop-off” voters), had favored Democrats in 2018 by about two-to-one (64% to 33%). Likewise, about a third of 2020 voters (32%) did not turn out in 2022. This group voted 53% to 43% for Joe Biden. The absence of these 2020 Biden voters resulted in a worse performance for Democratic candidates in 2022.

As in “normal” midterms, last year’s electorate saw less drop-off among older voters and more among the young, who are among the most pro-Democratic cohort. “Voters under 30,” Pew wrote, “accounted for 10% of the electorate in 2022—similar to their share of all voters in 2018 (11%), but down from 2020 (14%).” By contrast, “Voters ages 50 and older were a larger share of the total in 2022 (64%) than in any of the past three elections. 70% of Republican voters were 50 or older, as were 57% of Democratic voters.”

As voters under 30 backed Democratic candidates over Republicans by a 68 percent to 31 percent margin last November, and those over 65 backed Republicans by a 56 percent to 42 percent margin, the fall-off among young voters was one of the (many) factors that gave Republicans their overall 51 percent to 47 percent lead in the total vote for all House contests.

There are obviously a host of issues Democrats in general and Biden in particular need to address to win in 2024, and a host of constituencies, both base and swing, whose concerns should demand their focus. Clearly, boosting turnout among the young requires work on the Plan B version of student debt relief, sustaining a good job market and contrasting their economic policies with the Republicans’, and a relentless focus on abortion rights. And a ground game like nobody’s business.

Unionized Workers at Blue Bird Hit the Next Hurdle: a Contract
An assist from Biden administration electric bus subsidies helped pave the way to victory at a plant in right-to-work Georgia. But workers say tensions with management have grown. BY LUKE GOLDSTEIN & GAUTAMA MEHTA
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The end of COVID emergency funding forces public-transit systems, states, and cities to get creative about new funding. BY GABRIELLE GURLEY
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Many low-income students will lose access to academic opportunities and recreational activities. BY LIZ ROSENBERG
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