Once election results are in, analysts typically look for broader trends and lessons learned from the vote — but analyzing the 2022 vote is proving to be a complicated task. In a way, it was a very unequal choice.
Did voter turnout increase or decrease? Did the results follow long-term trends or not? The answer was yes, or perhaps more correctly, it depends.
The Democrats had a good election night in 2022. They held the Senate, came close to the House of Representatives, and did well in key gubernatorial elections. But the results didn’t appear to provide definitive answers as to what message national voters were sending. At the state level, voter turnout data offer some clues.
Overall, fewer voters turned up in 2022 than in the last half of 2018.
About 109.5 million votes were cast for each state’s top-of-the-ticket election this year, compared to more than 115 million in 2018, according to a breakdown of numbers from NBC News. These numbers may change slightly when the counts are complete, but the point will stand.
To be fair, that’s still not a bad vote count. The 2018 election produced the highest medium-term turnout in more than a century, and this year’s numbers suggest high medium-term turnout may be a trend. But it wasn’t a record number, and results vary from state to state.
A few states saw sharp declines in voter turnout this year, and the states with the largest declines were all in the -20% range or more.
Some of these numbers may not come as a huge surprise. Mississippi, New Jersey, and West Virginia did not have a Senate or gubernatorial race that year (each had Senate races in 2018).
But North Dakota had a Senate race this year and Tennessee had a fight for the governor’s mansion — and voters still didn’t come out. Why? One possible reason: The races were not close. The Republicans won both of those contests by more than 30 percentage points. Voters may have thought their ballots wouldn’t make much of a difference.
One of the biggest drivers of the national decline was a decline in the country’s four largest states: California, Florida, New York and Texas.
Combined, these four states cast fewer than 1.4 million votes this year compared to 2018, about 25% of the total drop. Each had a gubernatorial race, and three of them — California, Florida, and New York — had Senate races.
None of these races were particularly close. Even the New York governor’s race, which polls say was tightening, ended in a nearly six-point victory for incumbent Kathy Hochul.
But the 2022 vote declines were not universal. There were a number of states that saw increases in vote production, many of them “battleground states,” and they turned out to do well for the Democrats.
Votes cast in top-of-the-ticket races in 2022 were 5% or more above 2018 numbers in New Hampshire, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Michigan.
One result: Democrats had a lot of good news from these states. The party retained the Senate seats in New Hampshire and Arizona, flipped the Senate seat in Pennsylvania, and won the Arizona governor’s race. In Michigan, Democrats held the governor’s mansion while overturning both houses of the state legislature, giving the party complete control of the state capital for the first time in 40 years.
Different factors played a role in these states. Conscientious objectors seeking statewide roles in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania likely played a role. And a ballot proposal to make abortion a constitutional right in Michigan that passed probably drained that state’s turnout.
But there was another notable finding in the Michigan and Pennsylvania data. These states saw large turnout and positive results, although the largest cities in each state — Detroit and Philadelphia — produced fewer votes than in 2018.
In Michigan, Wayne County (which includes Detroit) garnered 2% fewer votes than in 2018. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia garnered nearly 10% fewer votes. Traditionally, Democrats in these states have won only when their urban cores emerged.
These numbers suggest that the Democratic coalition in these states may be changing and leaning more toward college-educated voters and suburbanites as their rural areas become more Republican. In the gubernatorial elections in both states, exit polls showed Democratic candidates winning college-educated voters and white college-educated voters by more than 20 percentage points.
Again, these are not universally applicable lessons. There are a number of reasons why 2022 was a runaway election – from former President Donald Trump, who refused to leave the stage, to the Supreme Court, who crowded the stage as he voted Roe v. Wade fell. State turnout figures, however, suggested a few points.
First, even in a politically charged environment, voters needed a reason to vote. And second, in states where voters turned out in large numbers, it seemed to favor Democrats.