The 2022 Midterms Had the Second Highest Voter Turnout in 20 Years

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Every two years, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys Americans to collect information about voter registration and voter behavior. Earlier this month, the bureau released data from the latest iteration of this survey, with information about voting during the November 2022 midterm elections. The data covers a range of topics, from registration and turnout to the most popular voting methods.

Here are the key takeaways:

1. Turnout was the second highest in 20 years for a midterm election.

More than half of eligible voters (52.2%) cast ballots in the 2022 midterms, only slightly lower than the 53.4% that voted in 2018, and making last year the midterm cycle with the second highest turnout since 2000. In terms of voter registration, the share of eligible voters that were registered — 69.1% — reached an all-time high for a midterm election.

However, the decline in turnout from 2018 wasn’t spread equally among demographic groups as it was largely driven by Black Americans, who voted at lower rates in 2022, down from  51.1% in 2018 to 45.1% this past cycle. Turnout levels for other racial and ethnic groups largely stayed the same or only slightly decreased, but even with this decline, turnout among Black voters was still the second highest for a midterm since 2000.

Youth turnout also experienced a downturn between 2018 and 2022, declining from 32.4% to 27.6%. Again, this was still the second highest turnout in 20 years for young voters — in 2014 only 17.1% of voters under 24 voted. Other age groups saw no decline or only slight declines in turnout.

2. Ethnic and racial minorities are more likely to cite being busy or work obligations as  reasons to not vote.

As part of its survey, the Census asked registered voters from all demographics  who didn’t vote to give a reason as to why not. The most commonly cited reason for not voting was “Too busy, conflicting work or school schedule,” followed by “Not interested, felt my vote wouldn’t make a difference.” The share of voters not voting because of their schedules was largely unchanged from 2018, hovering at 26.5%.

However, voters in separate demographic groups responded differently to the question of why they didn’t vote in 2022. Nonwhite Americans were more likely to cite being busy, while white Americans were more likely to say they were uninterested in voting.

3. The share of voters who voted early or by mail in 2022 reached a record high for a midterm election.

After experiencing record high usage in 2020, early voting and mail-in voting remain at historically high levels. Nearly 50% of voters voted either early or by mail in 2022, with 31.8% of voters casting their ballots by mail, marking an all-time high for a midterm election. Nearly two-thirds of Asian voters voted early or by mail, along with 58.6% of Hispanic voters. Black and white voters had the lowest rates of early voting and mail-in voting, at 46% and 48% respectively.

4. The South had the lowest voter turnout.

Turnout varied significantly across the states, as only 38.2% of eligible West Virginians voted compared to 65.3% of Oregonians. Collectively, the South saw the lowest voter turnout in the country at 48.9%. n the West, Midwest and Northeast, turnout was higher at approximately 54% in each region. Georgia was an outlier in the South, with 52% of eligible adults casting a ballot in the Peach State. The higher turnout in Georgia may be due to the high-profile statewide races, as well as Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D) reelection to the U.S. Senate.

Like overall turnout, different regions of the country saw disparate rates of early and mail-in voting. While only 3.6% of voters in Alabama voted early or by mail, almost all voters in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington used these methods. Although not a perfect correlation, states with higher turnout also tended to have higher rates of early and mail-in voting.

Expanding mail-in and early voting could facilitate an even higher turnout.

While turnout was still historically high for a midterm, there was still 50% of eligible Americans who did not vote in the 2022 elections. The Census data suggests that the inconvenience of voting is still a key barrier for many people, with a quarter of nonvoters citing being too busy as their reason. At the same time, states with robust mail-in and early voting tended to have higher turnout. Together, these two data points suggest expanding access to early voting and mail-in voting is a way to improve turnout among all Americans.