Analysis: 2018 'blue wave' due in part to boost in voters who didn't cast ballots in 2016

Analysis: 2018 'blue wave' due in part to boost in voters who didn't cast ballots in 2016
© Getty Images

Democrats received a boost during the 2018 “blue wave” in part by voters who did not cast ballots in 2016 but broke hard against Republicans in the last midterm cycle, according to a new analysis released Tuesday by Pew Research Center.

According to the Pew analysis, those who did not vote in 2016 but did in 2018 made up only 11 percent of the electorate two years ago but voted heavily Democratic in House races. Among the group, 68 percent voted for Democratic House candidates, while just 29 percent backed GOP contenders.

The group’s hard break ended up playing an outsize role in boosting Democrats two years ago. While Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGorsuch rejects Minnesota Republican's request to delay House race Biden leads Trump by 6 points in Nevada: poll The Memo: Women could cost Trump reelection MORE, the 2016 Democratic nominee, had a 2-point edge over President Trump in the 2016 popular vote, Democrats jumped to a 9-point lead among all 2018 House votes cast. Pew determined that 2016 nonvoters accounted for about half of that 7-point increase.


The news offers a bright spot for Democrats, suggesting that the party stands to benefit from voters who held their noses and decided not to vote in the 2016 race between Trump and Clinton, two candidates with high unfavorable ratings.

Clinton was damaged by low turnout among urban voters and voters of color, particularly in key Midwestern states, four years ago, and Democrats have made ensuring that their core base turns out a top priority heading into November. But voter turnout as a share of the eligible population hit 49 percent in 2018, the highest for a midterm election in 100 years, in a cycle that was widely viewed as a referendum on Trump’s first two years in office.

Democrats also benefited from an array of other groups in 2016. Pew found that Clinton-backers voted Democratic at a slightly higher rate than Trump’s supporters voted Republican, and those who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 also backed Democratic contenders in 2018 by a 49 percent to 37 percent margin.

The GOP also lost ground with key demographics, namely men, who voted Republican by a 52 percent to 41 percent margin in 2016 but backed Democrats by a narrow 50 percent to 48 percent margin in 2018. Republicans’ advantage among white men in particular also shrunk from 30 points in 2016 to 12 points two years later. 

White voters also backed the GOP by 6 points in 2018, a narrowing from the 15-point margin Republicans enjoyed among the demographic in 2016. 

The Pew analysis is based on surveys with 10,640 U.S. adults online in November 2018 and 4,183 adults in November and December 2016, all of whom were a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. The surveys were weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and “many other characteristics.”