A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. Sign up here for free to receive it in your inbox. CNN — When the Democrats won the House of Representatives in 2018, they won thanks to a turnout increase that achieved the highest turnout in a midterm election in 100 years. Nevertheless, half of the population with the right to vote did not participate. Early voting has surged this year in some major states, but when I spoke with Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida famous for tracking early voting data, he predicted that turnout would drop below 2018 levels. McDonald’s has published a new book that analyzes the staggering performance of the 2020 presidential election, where nearly 67% of voters voted. You can learn more about this book and his early voting tracker on his US Election Project website. We talked about what people should subtract from the last election and what he’s looking at as he tracks the pre-voting data for this one. Below is a condensed version of a longer phone conversation. WOLF: You wrote a book about the amazing democratic achievements of voting during the pandemic. What do you want people to learn from that study? McDonald’s: You must pay a lot to the elections officials, the volunteers who staffed the polling places, and the voters themselves who participated in the highest turnout in the presidential election since 1900. No one voted in the 2020 election. I voted in the last election, when the turnout was higher. That’s a really great achievement. We did a historic job under special circumstances. This is very positive news. Unfortunately, another point of the book is the ruthless attack on votes that took place during the election that resulted from the investigation with Trump (former President Donald Trump). It undermined democracy and we can see that happen in real time with the 2022 elections. WOLF: You mentioned the highest turnout in 100 years in 2020. I saw in the book that turnout in the 2018 midterm elections was the highest since 1914. We are seeing more and more people questioning the integrity of elections. I am more involved in elections. What do you think about it? McDonald’s: The last time turnout was unusually high was in the late 1800s, a period marked by extreme polarization. We don’t have survey data, so we can’t go back and ask voters if they are polarized, but we can infer that what happened among elected officials in the federal government is a reflection of what happened among voters. . So we have entered a period of higher polarization, and you can point to the cause. But whatever the cause, we’ve definitely reached a point where people really believe that it’s really important that whoever runs the government matters and who runs the government is on their side. People are more likely to vote when they recognize the importance of differences between parties and policies on their lives. It’s an old curse. We want you to live in exciting times. We live in exciting times. People are interested in politics, so they participate in elections. WOLF: In the 1880s America had close to 80% turnout. It could be argued that high voter turnout is in some ways a warning sign for democracy. McDonald’s: I want people to get engaged for altruistic reasons, want to be good citizens, review their options carefully and make rational decisions about who to vote for. There are those who see political science reports written in the 1950s and lament that there are no differences between parties. parties. Now, and behold, you have to be careful with what you want because political parties are more powerful in the electorate than in modern times. And now people are probably thinking that’s too much. What is the happy medium of participating voters? But what media don’t want to engage in violent acts in some cases because they believe politics are so important because they aren’t ignited by partisans? WOLF: You are well known for tracking pre-voting data. What can actually tell us before Election Day? McDonald’s: I first started tracking early voting in the 2008 election for exit polls. They wanted to know the size of the pre-vote so they could weight the survey appropriately. And like a lark, I put it online. Later I found out that the website I built like a lark had a million views and did something different and special in a way. And if you look at a lot of data journalism going on today, it’s closer to what I’m doing. It’s about taking the management data and telling the story somehow. To answer the question of where we are in the early voting… all you want is to gather all the information you can weave together and try to get a picture of where we are. So I don’t think early voting alone tells the situation, just as voting alone doesn’t tell you a definitive picture of where the elections are going. There is an error in the survey. Early voting has nuances and measurement issues. WOLF: What do you see in early voting? McDonald’s: It’s not just that you’ve been given a ballot or have the opportunity to vote. They should really want to vote, and they are particularly interested in voting in the very high-profile high-profile elections that take place in the US Senate or some gubernatorial elections. It seems to attract voters. What we’re seeing in the state is a high level of early voting. We are seeing a lot of democratic participation. A common sight in midterm elections is that the ruling party is somehow punished. For whatever reason, people are outraged by what the administration has done and find reasons to get engaged. But in these primary races, we’re not seeing some sort of referendum on President Biden. In fact, look at the polls. (President Cho) Those who strongly oppose Biden are still saying they will vote for the Democratic nominee. What is happening here is that the election has shifted to a choice between candidates rather than a referendum on Biden. Looking elsewhere in the country doesn’t show the same level of engagement. This lack of participation makes the election more like a referendum on Biden and can have a divisive outcome, as seen in many polls. If Democrats lose the House, it will be because voters have no reason to vote in states like California, at least in part. This is a challenge for Democrats as we go into early voting this week. How can you lay the groundwork to vote on the same level as Republicans do, where there is no such famous presidential primary that is drawing people to the polls? WOLF: Can we now assume that some of the concerns about the new restrictive voting laws are unfounded because of the high turnover in certain states and the fact that so many people are using early voting? McDonald’s: I’ll give you a stupid and totally ridiculous answer to that. But for good reason. Do you know what this election is? I see massive voting repression in this election. Looking back at the 2020 presidential election, voter turnout fell across the board in all states. In this general election, there was a massive impeachment. Of course, you think that’s absurd. It’s funny that the turnout in the presidential election is higher than in the midterm. And just because states like Georgia are running interesting races to attract voters doesn’t mean that SB 202, a law passed in Georgia, somehow made it easier for everyone to vote. situation. This does not mean that there is a particular community that is not left behind. A good example of this is when you look at Georgia, you see a record number of direct early voters, but the number of vote-by-mail ballots has dropped by about half. And that’s fine. Those who would have voted by mail will vote in person or vote early on Election Day or earlier. There may be people who, for whatever reason, are stuck at home and cannot get to the polling place and have to vote by mail. And for those people, they may not be as engaged as the rest of Georgia. The high voter turnout in Georgia does not mean that the law has not had an oppressive effect on certain communities in Georgia. WOLF: Another new storyline in this election is that the Hispanic and Latino votes have shifted to Republicans in Florida due to the transition to Republicans. Is there anything to support or disprove it in the early voting? And do you agree with that bigger story? McDonald’s: We can’t answer that question with the data we have available because we don’t know how people vote. Overall, early voting in typical elections is usually won by Democrats, or at least registered Democrats. It is Republicans who have won the early ballot in this election cycle. Registered Republicans so far (November 2) have an advantage of nearly 180,000 votes in both mail-in and in-person pre-voting, and most of those benefits actually come in-person. But still, all of these Democrats have their ballot-by-mail. And here’s an interesting fact. they don’t return it. Not to the same degree or proportion as Republicans. So if you look at the bounce rate (November 2), 48% of Democrats returned their mail-in ballots, compared to 55% of Republicans. So they are the people with the mail-in ballot in their hands. And you see a huge gap in these return rates. Part of what’s happening in Florida is a self-fulfilling prophecy that people who don’t believe Democrats can win don’t vote. And Democrats can’t win because they don’t vote. WOLF: Will 2022 Turnout Surpass 2018 Midterms? McDonald’s: You’re going to see high turnout. Georgia will probably surpass turnout in 2018. And some other states like Pennsylvania can. However, it is very likely that some larger states, such as California, New York, and Texas, will not have the same level of engagement. And you can see some inequality because most of the population lives in that big state and there are no competitive elections that boost turnout. I don’t expect it to go all the way back to 2014. It was the lowest election turnout since 1942. But we wouldn’t be surprised if we were below 2018.
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