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"I voted" stickers are on display for voters in the U.S. presidential election at Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains, Virginia, U.S., November 8, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - HT1ECB8183K3O
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How voter turnout could affect the 2018 midterm elections

Editor's Note:

Visit our 2018 Midterms page for Brookings experts’ research and analysis related to the upcoming midterm elections, and subscribe to the Brookings Creative Lab YouTube channel to stay up to date on our latest videos.

The midterm elections consistently have a much lower voter turnout than the general election, which has an effect on the overall election results. Many factors influence voter turnout in the midterm elections, including the popularity of individual candidates, the favorability rating of the president, the state of the U.S. economy, and ballot initiatives. Watch John Hudak explain which factors will be most important to the 2018 midterm elections and how they could affect each party’s chances of controlling the 116th congress.

What you need to know:

  • Many forces affect who turns out in a midterm election. Some of them have to do with the individual candidates but larger state level and national level forces can produce higher or lower levels of turnout.
  • One of the issues that can affect voters is how popular the president is. A wildly popular president can motivate a lot of people, particularly people of the president’s party, to turn out to vote.
  • During midterms, presidents often have fallen off their higher levels of popularity. When that happens, it can motivate independents to come out and vote against the president’s party. It can also motivate individuals from the opposite party to come out and vote in higher numbers.
  • Typically, during good economic times, the party of the president would do better than they would during periods of economic decline.
  • In 2018, the economy is doing quite well by almost any metric you would use but the president is unpopular. While normally a president would do well during these economic times, he is not expected to do as well. His party is also not expected to do as well.
  • Based on what we know about the elections a couple of months out, there are a lot of indicators that suggest that Democrats will do well.
  • One of the key indicators is what’s called the Generic Congressional Ballot. The Generic Congressional Ballot is a poll that asks Americans nationwide: “Who would you prefer to be in charge of Congress, Democrats or Republicans?” Overwhelmingly, poll after poll is showing that most Americans want Democrats to win control of Congress in November instead of Republicans.
  • The simple history of midterm elections suggests that the party of the president almost always loses.
  • If Democrats end up taking back control of the House during the midterms, you will see an onset of significant oversight of the Trump administration.
  • One of the issues that scares Republicans the most is not just that Democrats will launch investigations into the Trump administration, but the number and size of those investigations.
  • Frankly, if Democrats find wrongdoing in areas within in the administration, Republicans know that won’t just be “egg on their face” during those investigations but it could significantly harm the president’s chances of re-election in 2020 and party’s ability to compete in congressional elections in 2020 as well.

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