The late spring/early summer of an off-year is one of my favorite times of the year. Sure, I love the longer days and the warmer weather. But it's also that time when we finally get a full, data-supported account of who showed up to vote in the previous election. Exit polls give us a good first pass, but until the voter files have been updated and verified and the county and precinct-level data have been gathered and organized, our understanding of the electorate isn't complete. 

This week, Catalist, a Democratic data analytics firm, released "What Happened," the fourth installment of their series analyzing the previous year's election results. 

Some of their findings support the current narrative of the midterm election — namely that young voters were the key to Democrats' success at the statewide level. But other findings, like Democrats' overall slippage with white college-educated voters, goes against some of the conventional wisdom. 

First, here is where Catalist data confirms our previous understanding of what happened in the 2022 midterms:

This was a regional, not a national election. 

Using Cook Political Report ratings, Catalist grouped Senate and governor races into two categories: one included only races rated as Toss Up or Lean (i.e. competitive races) while the other included races rated as Solid or Likely (i.e. not competitive). For the first time since Catalist has tracked this data in 2014, the most competitive races performed differently than those in the less competitive category. For example, in 2014, Democrats did four points worse in both competitive and non-competitive Senate and gubernatorial races than in the previous presidential year. In 2022, however, Democrats did four points worse in the 52 non-competitive seats than in 2020, while doing slightly better than 2020 (less than 1% better) in the 18 competitive statewide contests. 

Young people powered Democrats' success in 2022.

According to the Catalist analysis, GenZ/Millennial voters (defined as those between the ages of 18-41), not only turned out at higher levels than they did in 2018, but they were the only age group that increased their support for Democratic candidates from 2018. At the House level, younger voters comprised 23% of the electorate, up 3% from 2018. In states with competitive Senate and gubernatorial contests, participation among younger voters increased by 4 points (from 23% to 27%). For the first time since 1980, writes Catalist, "young people's Democratic support has been greater than 60% for two consecutive midterm elections, and now includes a midterm with a Democratic incumbent president." 

After 2008, many assumed that Obama's personal connection with younger voters would transfer to the Democratic Party's candidates in subsequent elections. That didn't happen. Instead, what seems to be driving younger voters to the polls isn't love, but anger. In 2018, Donald Trump's presence in the White House was a motivating factor for these voters. In 2022, anger over the abortion decision was the most likely catalyst for turnout.

Higher turnout = better outcome for Democrats. In 2022, turnout in five Senate races — North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and New Hampshire — was higher than the "Blue Wave" year of 2018. Democrats won all but one of those races (North Carolina) last year. Of the three competitive senate races where turnout was lower than 2018 (Wisconsin, Ohio, and Colorado), Democrats lost all but one (Colorado).    

The last three elections — 2018, 2020, 2022 — have seen the highest turnout in the modern era. It also happens to be that Democrats did well or better than expected in every one of those elections. As such, it's easy to assume that another high-turnout election will benefit Democratic candidates in 2024. 

However, each one of these elections was decided by very narrow margins. Joe Biden carried the Electoral College by about 44,000 votes. In the last two elections (2020 and 2022), control of the House came down to a few thousand votes. The "Blue Wave" wasn't enough to propel Democratic statewide candidates to victory in Florida in 2018. In other words, big turnout still produces only narrow wins. 

Now for Catalist's somewhat counter-narrative findings:

In competitive statewide races, Democrats improved with white non-college voters compared to 2020, but performed slightly worse with white college voters.

According to post-election conventional wisdom, Democrats over-performed expectations in 2022 thanks to support from white, college-educated suburban voters who were turned off by Republican candidates' extreme positions on abortion. 

However, according to Catalist, in the highly contested Senate and gubernatorial races "Democrats actually improved their vote share among white non-college voters (36% in 2020 to 40% in 2022), while slightly losing support among white college voters (53% in 2020 to 51% in 2022). Directionally, in both cases, the relative improvement came among white non-college voters." 

The biggest movement was among female white non-college voters and white college men. Among the women, support for Democrats improved by four points from 2020, while support from white college men dropped four points. 

At the House level, this gap between white college men and white non-college women was even larger. Support for Democrats among white college men dropped seven points from 51% to 44%, while remaining stable among white non-college women.

Abortion likely played a significant role in Democrats' improved support from white non-college women, while worries about the economy may have been a more important factor for white college men. 

Democrats didn’t do worse with Latino voters than 2020, but they didn’t do better either. 

In the most competitive statewide races of 2022, Democrat candidates took 62% of the Latino vote in 2022, a 1% bump from Biden's 61% showing with Latinos in those states in 2020. However, it is still five points lower than Hillary Clinton's 67% showing with Latino voters in these same states seven years ago. 

Sen. Mark Kelly out-performed Biden's showing in Arizona by four points, but still underperformed Clinton by two points.

In conversations with progressive organizations that focus on Latino voter engagement, the abortion issue not only was a motivating issue in 2022, but remains one today, especially among younger Latinos and female voters. 

 

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