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Reading the 2018 Midterm tea leaves

With hours until the polls open on Election Day, there are plenty of interesting data points on both the size of the electorate, as well as what it is thinking. They all combine to suggest that we will be in for a wild Election Night that will thrill one side of the aisle and cause the other to tear its hair out. Here is a quick primer on what I am watching.

Turnout and demographics: 2014 saw just 36.4 percent of voters, just 87 million people, show up to the polls. It was the lowest turnout among the American electorate in a midterm since World War II. 21,218,015 Americans voted early in the 2014 Midterms, but this year, the number is 60 percent higher, with 34,789,998 casting ballots in early voting. While this obviously will not translate directly to Election Day, we still could see closer to the turnout of the 2016 Presidential Election (137.5 million) than that of 2014.

Further, voter registration data and polls have shown an electorate that is increasingly active and has grown in size, especially among key demographics for Democrats. This is bolstered by the elections held in 2017, as well as special elections so far this year, which saw high levels of voter engagement. Each of these point toward increased turnout among the electorate, but especially among young voters and millennials (the oldest being 37).

Some see this as unlikely, as only 26 percent of the under 40 voting bloc and 19.9 percent of voters 18-29 voted in 2014. When comparing early voting statistics for the 2014 and 2018 Midterms, there has been a massive increase in young voter turnout. In Texas and Nevada, young voters have voted early five times more than they did in 2014. In Georgia, 21 percent of all registered young voters — a 369 percent increase from 2014 — have already voted.

These are jaw-dropping numbers that favor Democrats, as even a conservative turnout of 31 percent of voters 18-39 would be a several million vote increase from 2014. In all likelihood, the rise in percentage of voters under 40 will be at least 10 points higher than in 2014. Another potential scenario is outlined in the Fall 2018 National Youth Poll released by Harvard’s Institute of Politics. This found that the amount of young voters planning to head to the polls this year was double that of 2014.

According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, Democrats are +23 with registered voters under 40, which is up from the 13 point margin they had in 2014. At the same time, Republicans have moved from +21 with voters 65 and over in 2014 to just +3 today. This is worth watching, as should this shift among voters 65+ hold and play out on Election Day, it certainly would be one that was largely missed and under the radar.

While all of these indicators point to good news for Democrats, they do not necessarily translate to a Democratic victory in the House or Senate. The key question is where are energized Democratic voters casting their ballots? If they are doing so in already solid blue districts and states, then we could see a scenario where Democrats win the popular vote, but wind up failing to retake the House of Representatives and/or Senate. This moral victory scenario would be a nightmare for Democrats.

The economyRepublicans are banking on the strength of the economy in order to stave off defeat and deny Democrats the 23 seats needed to capture the majority in the House of Representatives. The gamble is that while voters, particularly minorities, might not be happy with the GOP, they are happy enough with the economy and will stay home.

Yet, there are signs that this will not occur. In polls that have delved into the personal financial situations of voters, there is cause for concern for Republicans. When asked if they are better off financially than they were a year ago or when President Trump took office, the majority of voters say that their financial situation is either the same or worse (the plurality saying the same). Further, when asked about how tax reform, the GOP’s biggest legislative accomplishment since Trump took office, the majority of voters say that they have not felt it in their pocketbooks.

According to an ABC News/Langer Research poll released on November 4, 60 percent of Americans say that their personal finances have not improved since Trump took office. Of these voters, 62 percent plan to vote for Democrats on Election Day and just 30 percent supporting GOP candidates.

What the election is about: Health care still remains the top issue for voters. The economy and immigration follow closely behind. However, the election is undoubtedly a referendum on Donald Trump and Republicans.

Race to watch: There are plenty of races to watch on Tuesday night that will provide a window into what will happen nationally, but the race for the Kentucky Sixth Congressional District between incumbent GOP Representative Andy Barr and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath could provide a crucial window into how Democrats will perform.

Donald Trump won this district in 2016 by 15.3 points, but the district is now competitive, as McGrath has made health care a focal point of her campaign. This has won her the support of some Trump voters, but how many is currently unclear. At the same time, Barr has fully embraced Trump and, in doing so, seeks to rally the Trump base to help him be reelected. Additionally, new voter registrations in 2018 in the district saw Republicans stay relatively even with Democrats, which bucks the national trend where Democrats saw new voter registrations tilt in their favor. The better McGrath performs, the better Democrats will likely do in House races across the country. Polls close at 6pm Eastern, so results should filter in sooner than other House races.

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