Statewide turnout in last month’s midterm elections was lower than in all but one other midterm election in the last 20 years.
The vote total was less than the turnout in the 2018 midterm elections by more than 600,000 votes. In accordance with official election results Nearly 2.65 million people voted in the general election, about 41% of the 6.5 million registered voters, according to the state elections department’s website. The only midterm voter turnout this century that was lower was in 2014, when about 36% of registered voters cast ballots.
New Jersey’s 2018 midterm turnout of 3.25 million, or 55%, was New Jersey’s highest since 2000, with voters motivated by anti-Trump sentiment flocking to the polls. Two incumbent Republicans were unseated, and two more traditionally Republican districts went to Democrats. One quickly became a Republican again when Rep. Jeff Van Drew switched his party affiliation less than a year after taking office in the southernmost 2nd Congressional District.
Republicans did take back another one of those seats this year, when Rep. Tom Kean Jr. defeated Democrat Rep. Tom Malinowski in the 7th District. But that defeat appears to have had more to do with the fact that the Democratic district map made it easier for the Republican to win. Statewide, Democrats polled 1.4 million votes in the House election, nearly 250,000 votes or 10 percentage points more than Republicans.
Last year, Malinowski County had 12,000 more registered Democrats to nearly 17,000 more registered Republicans on Election Day. The interim results show Malinowski lost by less than 9,000 votes this year, or about 2.8%. Two years ago, Malinowski edged Keane by about 5,300 votes, or 1.2%.
Some political observers pointed to one bright spot: Turnout this year topped 2014, even though the U.S. Senate seat won by Democrat Cory Booker for his first full term meant the statewide race won the vote that year.
Micah Rasmussen, director of the New Jersey Rebovich Institute of Politics at Rider University, said the numbers show there’s no easy way to explain midterm voting patterns, at least in New Jersey.
“Of course, we know that 2018 was a record year for midterm turnout, but even among midterms, not every year is going to be the same,” Rasmussen said. “There was no state Senate race in New Jersey this year, and that meant no campaign had an incentive to get out on the ballot statewide. So in the counties that were competitive, you saw higher turnout, and in some counties that weren’t, the turnout was pretty low.”
He noted that the last midterm election without a candidate for the US Senate was in 2010, when turnout was 43%.
“This year is very much in line with the last federal election like this,” Rasmussen added. “That tells me that there was nothing out of the ordinary that caused the turnout to be different from the historical norm.”
— Graphics by Colleen O’Dea