10/11/2006 - Turnout in the 2006 midterm election may well be higher than normal, given the level of interest expressed by voters. Today, 51% of voters say they have given a lot of thought to this November's election, up from 45% at this point in 2002 and 42% in early October of 1998. Even in 1994 a recent high in midterm election turnout just 44% of voters had thought a lot about the election in early October.
The difference this year is due to record-high levels of Democratic enthusiasm about the election. Currently, 59% of Democratic voters say they have given a lot of thought to this election, up from 46% at this point in the 2002 election. Republicans, by comparison, are no more or less engaged this year than four years ago (48% now, 47% in 2002). Democrats are also far more excited about voting this year, with 51% saying they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, up from 40% in 2002. Just a third of Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, down from 44% four years ago.
Notably, the ongoing scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley has not had much of an impact on either the engagement or enthusiasm of Democratic and Republican voters. The Democratic advantages on both dimensions were about the same after Foley resigned as before the congressman stepped down.
The comparison between the current campaign and the 1994 midterm election, when Republicans won the majority of House votes and picked up more than 50 seats, is particularly telling. In early October 1994, 50% of Republican voters had already given a lot of thought to the election, compared with 40% of Democratic voters. Today, this margin is nearly reversed, as 59% of Democrats have given a lot of thought to the 2006 midterm, compared with 48% of Republicans.
These indications of Democratic engagement suggest that the turnout advantage the GOP has enjoyed in recent elections may not hold this November. Current estimates suggest that Democratic enthusiasm may compensate for some of the demographic factors that often lead to lower Election Day turnout among Democrats.
Read the full report November Turnout May Be High on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.