One of the first things out of President Obama’s mouth in his post-election press conference on Wednesday was an observation about the dismal state of voter turnout.
First he acknowledged that voters had sent a message, both in pushing Democrats out of power in the Senate and in increasing the Republicans’ majority in the House. “I hear you,” he said.
Then he added: “To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too. All of us have to give more Americans a reason to feel like the ground is stable beneath their feet, that their future is secure, that there is a path for young people to succeed, and the folks here in Washington are concerned about them.”
The implication is that people have become detached from the political process because they don’t believe it works – and that they’re staying away from the polls as a result. Newspaper headlines in the days following the election seemed to confirm the record low voter turnout.
“Vermont hits record low turnout,” read the Burlington Free Press. “NY breaks lowest voter turnout record in governor’s race,” said the New York Post. “Alabama voter turnout only 41 percent; lowest in decades,” reported the Birmingham News.
The same tale was told across the country – in Indiana, Texas, and Hawaii. The list goes on.
Yet interestingly, in some states turnout actually exceeded expectations. While South Carolina had near-historic lows, its neighbor North Carolina set a record for its highest turnout ever in a midterm election. Turnout in Oregon was about 70 percent, which is roughly average for the state, which uses a vote-by-mail system. In Wisconsin, voters turned out at the highest rate for a midterm in 50 years.
While low turnout is usually considered good for Republicans and bad for Democrats, that didn’t always hold true this time around.
In high-turnout Oregon, voters reelected an incumbent Democrat to the Senate by a margin approaching 20 percent. In North Carolina, the record turnout of voters ended with incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan losing her Senate seat to Republican Thom Tillis.
In low-turnout New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker sailed to reelection, but in another low-turnout state, Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Corbett was booted out by 10 points.
In an election that defied a lot of expectations, turnout statistics will be another data point that analysts will likely pore over for months as the country heads toward a presidential year in 2016.
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