Interest in the Midterm Elections is WAAAAY Down

By Paul A. Djupe

The 2022 elections will determine control of Congress and whether a Democratic agenda is stymied or can sputter along in fits and starts for another two years. Contests in Ohio haven’t been close in a while, but the Senate race here is tight between Hillybilly Elegy author JD Vance and Representative Tim Ryan, with perhaps a three-point spread right now. This is likely one of those elections where every vote counts. So, are Denison students invested and ready?

We were just in the field until last week, getting responses from over 500 students (THANK YOU!). The survey asked some of the same questions as in the fall of 2020, so we can compare the current mood with the tumultuous presidential election. And the mood is flat. As shown below, a strong majority (62 percent) of students in 2020 were very or extremely interested in “politics and the political campaigns so far this year.” This year that number is just over a third as much (24 percent). Only 14 percent were disinterested in 2020, but that number is triple in 2022 (39 percent).

In 2020, Denison had a robust voter engagement program run by our very own Jacob Rains. He had the great fortune of working with a seriously fired-up campus. 2022 is not the same place with the same political energy. It’s hard to register people if they don’t want to.

One of the more potent signals of an engaged campus is registering to vote here. Of course, some can’t because they are not American citizens, but most are and every citizen is allowed to change their registration to Granville, having lived here for more than a month. However, very few claim to be registered in Granville – just 13 percent of our 2022 sample compared with 31 percent of the sample in 2020. And it seems like it makes a difference – fully 97 percent of those registered in Granville said they were likely to vote compared to 87 percent of those registered at their home address. It’s just harder to vote at home without the peer pressure and with the added administrative burdens of requesting an absentee ballot. Moreover, while the non-registered were just 2 percent in 2020, it is 12 percent in 2022. Denison is leaving a number of cards on the table.

Another reason engagement might be low in 2022 is that Denison students are not particularly thrilled with their president – only a slim majority (53 percent) approves of the job Biden is doing. And that means that plenty of Democrats are disenchanted, which we’ll detail in a future post. For now, it’s safe to say that disapproval of the president weighs on their political engagement – disapproval of Biden drops a Democrat’s likelihood of voting by 7 percent.

There is a truism in American politics that the president’s party loses seats in Congress at the midterm. In recent history, only for FDR and GW Bush in 2002 did the president’s party pick up seats in both houses. On average, the president’s party loses 28 House seats and 4 Senate seats, using elections from 1934 to 2018. Those numbers would spell a loss of both houses of Congress by the Democratic Party and trigger a stalemate for the next two years. But 538’s models give the Democrats a slight edge in maintaining the Senate (66 percent), though long odds of holding the House (only 29 percent). Stranger things have happened, but the dynamics at play at Denison give us a good clue about how midterm elections cost the president’s party seats in Congress.

Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who runs the Data for Political Research minor. He started a few years ago in a bid to subsidize collective action. He’s on Twitter and you should be too, along with your president.

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