In every election cycle since Donald Trump became president, turnout has soared across the board and almost always to the detriment of Republicans. During the 2018 midterms, it was up 45% over 2014, with 115.1 million votes cast for candidates in the House of Representatives in 2018 versus the 79.2 million votes cast in 2014, according to the Brookings Institute. That increase, of course, turned out considerably better for Democrats, with a 70% surge in votes for Democratic House candidates over 2014 compared to a 27% bump for GOP candidates.
Turnout has also spiked in all four contests this year over that of 2015, rising by 66% in Virginia state Senate races, 48% in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, 20% in Mississippi’s gubernatorial election, and 31% in Louisiana’s. As a result, Virginia has now gone entirely blue in both legislative chambers and the executive. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates in all three gubernatorial contests greatly outperformed results from four years earlier, with two of them managing to prevail in Kentucky and Louisiana.
While some pundits were quick to chalk up the GOP’s loss in Kentucky to the extreme unpopularity of incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, it was harder to explain away the successful reelection of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in Louisiana, especially after Donald Trump dedicated three trips to the state to boost Edwards’ GOP rival Eddie Rispone.
And while turnout grew everywhere in Louisiana, it wasn’t spread evenly throughout. The New York Times reports that it increased only modestly in rural regions but “jumped by 29 percent in New Orleans and 25 percent in the parish that includes Shreveport, and it was nearly as high in Baton Rouge and in the largest New Orleans suburbs.” The biggest turnout spikes clearly benefitted Edwards more, likely because Trump motivated both Democratic base voters and conservative leaning suburban voters to the polls—both demographics that favored Edwards.
“If you had any doubt that Trump was a human repellent spray for suburban voters who have a conservative disposition, Republicans getting wiped out in the suburbs of New Orleans, Louisville and Lexington should remove it,” GOP strategist Tim Miller, a Trump critic, told the Times.
But Trump’s appearances in Louisiana also motivated African Americans voters.
The former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile, a native of the New Orleans area, said the only other time she had been able to nudge her entire extended family to go to the polls was to support former President Barack Obama in 2008.
”Donald Trump just has the same effect of pushing people out the door when they would prefer to stay home,” said Ms. Brazile. “I’ve never seen folks more unified.”
And 2020 will almost surely be another record-setting year in terms of turnout. According to Brookings, the average turnout gain from a midterm to the next general election is 18 points. Since turnout in 2018 was 50%, an “average gain from 2018 to 2020 would put turnout near 70%, a level we haven’t seen in more than a century.”
The conventional wisdom continues to be that the Electoral College gives Trump a fighting chance at winning reelection he wouldn’t otherwise have and perhaps even benefits him. But part of what cost Democrats in 2016 in key swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin was depressed turnout in Democratic strongholds. There’s almost no universe in which decreased turnout will hamstring Democrats in 2020 the way it did four years earlier. In fact, if anything, voter trends over the last several years suggest that Democrats stand to benefit more than Republicans from record setting turnout next year.