Will Higher 2022 Voter Turnout Hurt Republicans or Hurt Democrats?

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Before we gauge the impact of voter registration on the political parties, the current midterm election odds are the following: there’s about 90% chance that voter turnout exceeds 53% of the voting age population (the turnout in 2018), but also a 80% chance that this is lower than 67% of voting age Americans (the turnout in 2020).

Before you place midterm election bets, you should know the implications of the 2022 voter turnaround chances on the political parties. So, here are some key factors that you should keep in mind:

How Campaigns Anticipate Voter Turnout

Any campaign worth its salt will at the beginning, or even before, the race set out a vote goal for their candidate. In general, every good campaign manager does some variation of the following to determine their path to victory:

  1. Identify the population of the electorate, and then derive the voting age population
  2. Find the registered voter demographics of that voting age population
  3. Using the past decade of elections for this seat/area, identify historical voter turnout (make a distinction between midterm years versus presidential election years)
  4. Add a few extra percentage points for your vote goal so you can mitigate any miscalculation

Competent campaigners will let you know, though, what’s even more important than vote counting – It’s the crosstabs.

Crosstabs refer to the demographics of groups within a voter file that add extra detail to the strategy of the campaign. If you ever hear about a candidate depending on the ‘Latino vote’ or the ‘blue collar vote’, then think ‘crosstabs’.

Turnout for presidential elections tends to stay consistent for the different voting blocs across the country, since it’s easier for the average voter to learn about and have an opinion on the President. The amount and variety of people who show up for a midterm election is more variable. The turnout for both elections have been increasing in recent history, though.

Does Voter Turnout Favor One Party More Than the Other?

There’s a bias in academic literature and popular consciousness that states Democrats have a better chance of winning when there is a higher turnout. But this is usually more bias than fact.

A 2010 study found that variation in turnout has a “quite meaningful” effect on electoral outcomes. Although election-specific factors other than turnout have the greatest influence on who wins an election, variation in turnout significantly affects vote shares at local, state and national levels.

Much the same was described by a 2016 factcheck of the following statement Senator Bernie Sanders’ claimed during a primary debate against Clinton:

“Democrats win when the voter turnout is high… Republicans win when the voter turnout is low. Frankly, I don’t know that Secretary Clinton’s campaign can create a high voter turnout.”

The idea at play behind the scenes here is the idea of the ‘lazy Democrat’ voters. This is the phenomenon where people who in theory would vote blue end up not going to the polls at all.

This is difficult to apply to every race, and it does not apply to every race. Both Biden and Obama surfed into the Oval Office in years with record-breaking turnout statistics. But Bill Clinton managed to be elected as a Democrat President in a dramatically low turnout year (51.6% of the voting age population in 1996).

Does Vote-by-Mail Favor One Party More Than the Other?

Current scholarship on the topic finds that neither party is favored by higher rates of vote-by-mail ballots.

Despite Republicans’ current framing of vote-by-mail as a source of voter fraud and Democrats’ ardor for defending the lowest possible barriers to voting rights, people who vote by mail span the political spectrum. According to a FiveThirtyEight article from May 2022, “states have expanded their use of mailed ballots over the last decade — including five states that conduct all-mail elections by default — both parties have enjoyed a small but equal increase in turnout.”

So, more votes by mail might mean more votes from people who would not have voted otherwise. But this will likely not change a result that was going to happen in any given electoral race.

Does Higher Voter Registration Benefit One Party Over the Other?

Both parties conduct voter registration drives and benefit from new voters joining their party. Which party benefits more depends on the district in question and the effort each party put in.

Arguably, Obama only won his first term as President by beating Hillary Clinton in the early primary caucuses by registering Democrat voters who would then vote for him. But this is more of an exception than a rule.

Most of the time, voter registration just adds new members. This can be done manually with tables at an event with good foot traffic. It can also be accomplished via Automatic Voter Registration, where you would have to opt out of getting the ability to vote.

In a 2016 report published soon after the anniversary of Roe v.  Wade, a Cook Political Report commentator noted just how little the results changed due to higher party registration.

Higher turnout in all these cases seem more likely to have no effect or small positive implications for Democrats. So it is safe to conclude that higher voter turnout in 2022 will not hurt Democrats and is unlikely to do much damage to Republicans.