Voter turnout spiked to a 100-year high in last year’s midterm congressional elections. Census Bureau data released Tuesday finds turnout rates jumped across nearly all groups, but the shift was particularly notable among young adults who typically stay home in nonpresidential years.
The findings illustrate an extraordinary breadth of engagement in the first congressional election since Donald Trump became president, and only four years after turnout hit a 74-year low in 2014, according to the United States Elections Project.
The Census found that 36 percent of citizens ages 18-29 reported voting in last year’s midterm elections, jumping 16 percentage points since 2014 (when turnout was 20 percent) and easily surpassing any midterm election since the 1980s. Turnout also increased sharply among adults ages 30-44, rising from 36 percent in 2014 to 49 percent in 2018. While turnout among younger adults still lags that of their elders, last year’s election marked a clear break from the past two decades of anemic turnout among the youngest citizens.
The data comes from the voting and registration supplement of the Current Population Survey, conducted nationwide the November after each presidential and midterm election.
Hispanic and Asian citizens have historically voted at far lower rates than whites and blacks, but turnout grew in 2018 to record midterm highs for both groups. Hispanic turnout rose from 27 percent in 2014 to 40 percent last year, while Asian turnout increased from 27 percent to 41 percent.
Turnout among white citizens continued to be far higher, with Census Bureau data finding 58 percent voted in 2018, up 12 points from 2014 to the highest level in midterm elections for four decades. Blacks were in the middle at 51 percent, up 10 points from the previous midterm.
Education has long been one of the biggest factors in turnout, and in 2018 the education divide grew even further. A 74 percent majority of citizens with postgraduate degrees turned out to vote last year, up 12 points from 2014. And 59 percent of those with either a bachelor’s degree or some college education voted, up 13 points from the previous midterm.
Turnout rose by a smaller eight points among citizens with a high school education, from 34 percent to 42 percent, and by a still-smaller five points among those who lack a high school diploma (from 22 percent to 27 percent).
The Census Bureau survey also found an urban-rural dynamic to the turnout shift last year. In 2014, people living outside of metropolitan areas were slightly more likely to cast ballots than those living within metro areas, by 44 percent to 42 percent. That flipped last year, with 54 percent of citizens in metro areas turning out, compared with 52 percent of those living outside of them.
The largest turnout shifts were among groups that favored Democratic congressional candidates as a whole, fueling the party’s 8.6-point victory in overall congressional support. Roughly 6 in 10 college graduates favored Democrats according to network exit polling, and Democrats won even larger majorities among Hispanic and Asian voters.
Democrats also won 67 percent support among voters younger than 30 and 58 percent among those ages 30-44, both groups in which turnout increased dramatically, compared with 2014.
Americans’ interest in midterm elections usually lags far behind that of presidential years, but in 2018 there were places where turnout approached or even exceeded levels seen in the 2016 presidential election. The historical surge signals the potential for record-setting turnout in 2020.
Michael McDonald, a turnout expert and associate professor at the University of Florida, noted that turnout increased in nearly every state, including those without a competitive gubernatorial or Senate election. McDonald suggests this is an indication President Trump was a driving factor, and McDonald expects the energy to continue in the 2020 election when Trump is again on the ballot.
“I’m calling it the storm of the century,” McDonald said.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.