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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Disapproval of Congress May Boost Turnout, Help Dems

Jeffrey M. Jones writes that “Disapproval of Congress Linked to Higher Voter Turnout,” and explains at Gallup Politics:

Congressional job approval, currently 13%, is on pace to be the lowest it has been in a midterm election year. Moreover, a near-record-low 19% of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election. This latter measure shows a similarly strong relationship to voter turnout as does job approval.
Voter turnout in midterm elections has ranged narrowly between 38.1% and 41.1% since 1994, considerably lower than the 51.7% to 61.6% range for the last five presidential elections. But there has been a clear pattern of turnout being on the higher end of the midterm year range when Americans were less approving of Congress. The correlation between turnout and congressional approval since 1994 is -.83, indicating a strong relationship.
The disapproval-turnout link is a fairly recent phenomenon. From 1974 — the first year Gallup measured congressional job approval — until 1990, there was only a weak relationship between turnout and approval, with turnout higher when approval was higher, the opposite of the current pattern. But that weak relationship was driven mostly by the 1974 midterm elections, when turnout was among the higher ones for midterms and Congress was relatively popular after the Watergate hearings that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation that summer.

Jones reviews the history of the relationship between turnout and congressional approval, post-Watergate and adds, “As a result, it is unclear how the current frustration with Congress will manifest itself in terms of party control of the two houses of Congress.”
If recent patterns prevail, the expectation is that Republicans will reap the benefit, with their traditional midterm turnout edge, although most recent polls show that voters are more displeased with congressional Republicans than with Democrats. If the Dems’ Bannock Street Project lives up to some of the more optimistic reporting, they will likely do better than expected in the Senate and hold their majority. The DCCC’s recent 13-seat expansion of its “Red to Blue” campaign may also get better results than expected with a turnout surge.
As always the “safe” bet is with recent patterns. But if Bannock Street and Red to Blue do a good job, all bets are off.

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