As US Prepares to Vote, Who Will Be Casting Ballots?

On Tuesday, November 8, Americans will go to the polls to vote in elections that will determine which party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate for the next two years, and will also fill many legislative and executive positions at the state level.

If history is any guide, a relatively small fraction of eligible American adults will likely do so, perhaps less than half. A Pew Research Center poll in August found that only 36% of registered voters said they had given the upcoming election “a lot of thought.”

The proportion of Americans who will vote is likely to be older and whiter than the general population. The Pew data found that 50% of registered voters age 65 or older had given the election a lot of thought, compared to 20% of those aged 18 to 29.

The percentage of white registered voters who said they have given the election a lot of thought was 40%, compared to 30% of Hispanic voters, 27% of Black voters, and 17% of Asian voters.

Income and education

Other major factors related to participation in the upcoming election include levels of education and income.

According to Pew data, participation in the upcoming election was highest among individuals with advanced college degrees, at 40%.

Interestingly, while only 34% of college graduates with no advanced degree reported high engagement, those with some college but no degree reported the same level of engagement, 40%, as those with graduate degrees. Participation was lowest among those who did not complete a high school degree or had a high school diploma as their highest level of education, at 32%.

In general, wealthy Americans are, on average, more likely to vote than non-wealthy. US Census data shows that while 85% of people in households with incomes over $150,000 voted in 2020, only 72% of people in households with between $50,000 and $74,999 voted, and only 50% of people in households with incomes voted between $15,000 and $19,999.

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Economy is a big issue

While there were many major issues in US news reports the previous year, the state of the economy is expected to be the most important factor most voters will consider in November. When asked how important it was to them, 77% of those polled by Pew rated it as extremely important.

With inflation running high, at more than 8% year on year, and threats of recession looming, it is perhaps not surprising that voters are focused on the issue.

That news could be painful for the Democratic Party, which currently holds the White House and both houses of Congress. In midterm elections, the president’s party almost always loses seats in Congress. This year, Republicans are hoping this dynamic will help them take control of one or both chambers, already by slim margins.

Effect of abortion

However, while normal electoral participation trends may hold true in 2022, the margins may shift. Although still likely to vote in lower numbers than their older counterparts, participation among younger voters in November could be boosted by anger over the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade, an earlier decision that created a federal protection guaranteeing the right to abortion. .

“Anger is a good mobiliser,” Lisa Bryant, an associate professor of political science at California State University, Fresno, told VOA. “It sounds counterintuitive, but people lash out when they’re angry.”

The abortion issue may also increase women’s participation, she said.

“The Democratic Party, and especially women, who make up a larger share of the Democratic Party, are angry about the Roe decision,” Bryant said. “I think that will encourage a lot of people to come out this year.”

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She said voters motivated by abortion control could somewhat offset the turnout gap between younger and older American voters.

“Young women are signing up more than ever and saying they intend to be the most people there,” Bryant said. “So we might see that gap close a little bit this year.”

Adjustment effect

Jan Leighley, a professor of political science at American University’s School of Public Affairs, told VOA there are other reasons to question whether the conventional wisdom about midterm turnout will still hold in 2022.

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil and uncertainty, controversial Supreme Court decisions and the ongoing investigations into former President Donald Trump, Leighley said it may be unwise to assume that behavioral patterns will in the past still in force in 2022.

“It’s not that it’s a new routine, but maybe the old processes have changed,” she said. “Perhaps we are still in an adjustment period.”
In particular, she said, it could affect people’s tendency to vote in ways that have not applied in previous elections.

“People get cross pressured,” she said. “And how they put all those pieces together, I think, changes the rational decision of whether you vote or not, especially for people who haven’t voted before.”

Historical involvement

Federal elections in the US are held every two years, and in each one 435 seats in the House of Representatives are on the ballot, as are about one-third of the 100 seats in the Senate. Because US presidents serve four-year terms, every other election is considered a “presidential” election, and the elections that occur two years later, at the midpoint of the sitting President’s term, are called “midterms”.

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Historically, presidential elections have attracted much higher voter participation than midterms. According to the United States Election Project, maintained by Michael P. McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida, between 49% and 65% of the population eligible to vote in the United States presidential elections have been swayed to most of the past. 100 years.

For medium terms, attendance was much lower, remaining between 33% and 49% for most of the last 100 years.

However, in the last two federal elections, the turnout was much higher than in recent years. In the 2018 midterm election, participation hit 50%, the highest figure since 1914. In the 2020 presidential election, 66.7% of the eligible voting population cast a ballot, the highest percentage since 1900.

Political scientists say turnout has increased recently because Trump, a polarizing political figure, has encouraged participation on both sides of the political aisle. In addition, measures taken in 2020 to facilitate voting during the COVID-19 pandemic may have also increased turnout.

International comparison

It can be difficult to compare voter participation across countries because there are different ways of measuring it. Some estimate the percentage of people of voting age who cast a ballot. Others consider only the percentage of individuals who are eligible to vote (excluding resident aliens, for example). Still others measure the percentage of people who are registered to vote and show up to cast a ballot.

By most measures, however, participation in the US lags behind many of its peer countries, particularly those, such as Belgium and Australia, where laws making compulsory voting drive participation rates to around 80%.

Data collected by Pew Research, for example, showed that only Slovenia, Latvia, Chile, Luxembourg and Switzerland had lower voter participation rates than the United States.


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