And the GOP did it in a way that might scare some Democrats: higher voter turnout. At least in this era, Republicans don’t seem to have much to fear from high turnout — a turnout, amazingly, that came without former President Donald Trump in the White House.
Voter turnout in New Jersey and Virginia blasted past what these states saw four years ago. With more votes to be counted, more than 2.5 million New Jersey voters cast a ballot this year compared to 2.1 million in 2017. In Virginia, about 3.3 million votes were cast, compared with 2.6 million in 2017.
Both states had the highest numbers of votes cast in a gubernatorial election in those states on record. New Jersey did so despite what many thought would be an uncompetitive affair. Virginia, meanwhile, crushed a record that was just set in 2017.
The fact that turnout was even higher than four years ago was a bit of a surprise. Turnout in recent years surged with Trump involved in politics. Without him in the White House, it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine that turnout would drop.
If anything, Trump not being president may have motivated more Republicans to come out and vote.
In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin earned nearly 500,000 more votes than Ed Gillespie did four years ago. By comparison, Democrat Terry McAuliffe won nearly 200,000 votes more than Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam did in 2017.
When you break it down by county, turnout rose by about 32% in the counties Youngkin won. It was up half that (16%) in the counties McAuliffe took.
Likewise, in New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has already earned many more votes this year than he did in 2017. The reason the race was tight was because Republican Jack Ciattarelli has over 300,000 more votes than Republican Kim Guadagno got in 2017.
The point here is that higher turnout doesn’t necessarily benefit only Democrats.
That’s something we saw in the 2020 election, too. This was the election that had the highest percentage of the voter-eligible population come out in over 100 years.
Using the Pew Research Center’s validated voter survey, we can examine voters who decided to cast a ballot in 2020 after not voting in 2016. Specifically, we’ll look at all voters who were not in the youngest age category to ensure that they were of eligible age to vote in 2016.
Of those who voted in 2020 but not in 2016, Trump won those age 30 and older by 3 points. This made this group slightly more Republican than the age 30 and older group who have a record of voting in both elections. Biden won those by 2 points.
These results are within the margin of error of each other, but it is consistent with the idea that the new voters who could cast a ballot in both elections were not more Democratic than the electorate as a whole.
This shouldn’t be too surprising. The age 30 and older group that voted in both elections were 15 points more likely to have a college degree. Among Whites, they were 17 points more likely. Education, of course, is a key divide in politics today, especially among Whites. College-educated voters are far more likely to vote Democratic. This means that the infrequent voters are coming from the segment of the educational divide that is less friendly to Democrats.
Going forward, it seems quite plausible that voter turnout is going to stay high. Our CNN/SSRS poll completed in early September showed that 48% of registered voters were extremely or very enthusiastic to vote in next year’s midterm elections. That’s the highest percentage this early for any midterm since CNN started asking the question during the 2010 cycle.
The high percentage of enthusiastic voters was one of the first early tips that 2020 would have record turnout.
And perhaps in-line with everything so far, voters who said they were the most enthusiastic for 2022 were more likely to say they would be voting Republican than voting Democratic.
It’s possible that 2022, like 2021, could be another election with record turnout where Republicans do well.