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Is midterm voter turnout really that much lower than presidential years?

Voter drop-off from the previous presidential election was below average in 2018.

Voter turnout in each of the last six midterm elections has been at least 8 percentage points lower than turnout in the presidential election two years earlier. For example, 61% of voting-age citizens said they voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to estimates from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. In the 2018 midterm, 53% said they voted.

With the 2022 election approaching, here is what census data reveals about American voters and their midterm habits.

Reported voting fell from 64% in 2008 to 46% in 2010. From 2012 to 2014, it dropped from 62% to 42%.

The smallest voting gaps from presidential election to midterm were in 2018, when turnout was high for a midterm election. Estimated turnout rates for the 2020 presidential election, when turnout was also high, are shown below for reference.

Turnout is lower in midterm elections

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year Previous Presidential Turnout Midterm Turnout Midterm Turnout

Arrow width and length represent reported declines in midterm turnout from the previous presidential election.

Voter turnout tends to increase with age for all racial and ethnic groups. Midterm drop-offs are the smallest for older people and those with college degrees.

Older people are more likely to vote, and their midterm drop-off is smaller

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18 to 24 years old

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year Previous Presidential Turnout Midterm Turnout Midterm Turnout

25 to 44

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year

45 to 64

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year

65 and older

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year

Arrow width and length represent reported declines in midterm turnout from the previous presidential election.

Young Black voters reported the largest declines in midterm voting, in the 2010 and 2014 elections. However, their gaps were smaller in 2018, as they were for most groups.

The pattern of age and increased turnout is apparent when comparing voters across different education levels.

Older people with college degrees are the most likely to vote

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18 to 24 years old

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year Previous Presidential Turnout Midterm Turnout Midterm Turnout

25 to 44

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year

45 to 64

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year

65 and older

19982006201420220%20%40%60%80%100% of voting-age citizensMidterm election year

Arrow width and length represent reported declines in midterm turnout from the previous presidential election.

The largest drops in turnout between the 2016 and 2018 elections were among younger voters without college degrees. Voters 65 or older with a doctorate or professional degree had the smallest drop: 2 percentage points.

Sources & Footnotes

    • The estimates shown here are based on data from the Current Population Survey bi-annual voter supplement, which asks participants if they voted in the most recent November election. The Census Bureau codes non-response as non-voters in its turnout estimates. Non-response rates have increased, which introduces unknown variation across demographic groups.

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