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Voter registration data suggests Democrats' longed-for 'blue wave' will crash over Republicans in November

President Trump's party should prepare itself for an exceptionally difficult midterm election.
Image: Aubrey Marks
Aubrey Marks helps a University of Central Florida student to register to vote in Orlando on July 31, 2012.John Raoux / AP file

The outstanding question of the last two years — for which we're soon get an answer — is whether all the liberal rage at the election of President Donald Trump will actually lead to a "blue wave" in the 2018 midterm elections.

There is history behind the supposition: In every election since 1946 when the president’s approval rating is under 50 percent at the time of a midterm, the party that controls the White House has lost an average of 37 seats in the House of Representatives. And, in 2010, Democrats lost 63 seats and control of the House, while 2014 saw them lose their majority in the Senate along with 13 seats in the House. Most polls suggest 2018 will not be an outlier for the president's party.

Some Republicans have suggested that this year will be different — even going so far as to declare a “red wave” forming. Once again, they are discounting the polls and pollsters who suggested in 2016 that Trump could never win as little more than "fake news." Such is the disconnect that an internal Republican National Committee poll in September found that 57 percent of strong Trump supporters and a majority of Republicans believe that Democrats will not take back the House of Representatives — potentially indicating that said voters may feel no particular urgency to head to the polls in November. Denying the reality shown by the polls and screaming “fake news” may well come back to bite the hand that fed it.

But, unmentioned in the debate over who will vote and in what numbers has been voter registration data, which provides a solid glimpse into the mindset and enthusiasm levels of Americans heading into November’s midterm elections. Compiling publicly available data from several states in the nation over the past month shows results that should deeply concern Republicans: Several states with key races are showing a noticeable surge in voter registrations when compared to prior midterm election cycles.

In Colorado, for instance, the first eight months of this year saw 97,157 people added to the voter rolls, a 233 percent increase over this same period of time in 2014, when there were only 29,133 voters added to the rolls. Further, 50,256 of these registrations — 52 percent — were Coloradans aged 18-40. And the Republican Party not only saw the total number of registered voters in the state decline, but particularly among women 18-40.

Another example is in Minnesota: Steven Dennis, the secretary of state, tweeted on Sept. 7 that the state has seen 52,644 new voters register so far in 2018, and 67.6 percent of them are 18-30. The overall number of new voter registrations is more than double from the same period of 2014.

In Iowa, 2018 voter registrations so far are double what they were at the same point in 2014. Even more telling is the partisan breakdown: Democrats added 23,064 new members so far this year and Republicans only 1,636. By comparison, Republicans added 91,010 members in 2014 and 35,525 in 2010, when Democrats lost 3,091 and 23,242 members respectively. With a close gubernatorial race and all three GOP-held House seats ranked as competitive by both Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Iowa is yet another state where Republicans have the wind in their faces.

Virginia’s off-cycle 2017 elections were already considered a canary in the coal mine for Republicans in 2018: In addition to Democrats winning the governor’s mansion by a large margin, they only narrowly missed obtaining the majority in the state’s House of Delegates. Some might take that as proof that Democrats underperformed, but it is the exact opposite: The House of Delegates was not even seen as competitive.

Now, Virginia has multiple competitive House seats, all held by Republicans, and is seeing a new voter surge. According to data received under a FOIA request from the Virginia Department of Elections, 172,116 new voters have registered in 2018, which is well above the 101,652 new registrants from 2014 and the 89,975 in 2010. Of these new voters this year, 106,401 are under 35.

Then there's Pennsylvania, where Democrats are looking to pick up several of the 23 congressional seats that are needed nationwide to take control of the House of Representatives. Registered voters under 35 now outnumber those 65 and older, and nearly two thirds of new voter registrations in the state are under 30. Further, there are 400,000 more young Democrats than young Republicans.

Arizona, Florida and other states are seeing the same patterns. Republicans should be upping their anti-anxiety meds.

The biggest concern with the disproportional increase in younger voter registrations is that the Republican Party is in the midst of a demographic crisis: In addition to women voters, millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997) will be a key demographic in November, and they are rejecting the GOP at record levels. Party leaders have so far dismissed this problem with the false theory that, as we millennials age, we will become more conservative because we will have jobs, pay taxes and have fiscal responsibilities. But millennials aren't kids anymore: Many of us are in our 30s (and as old as 37), and thus have said responsibilities but have not gravitated to the Republican Party.

Further, Republicans are essentially counting on young people not voting this year, and yet, all signs point to millennials having increased enthusiasm. Earlier this year, a Pew Research Center study found that 62 percent of millennials look forward to the midterm elections, up from 46 percent in 2014 and 39 percent in 2010. The level of enthusiasm among all other generations remained stagnant for these three election cycles.

While voter registrations do not guarantee voter turnout, they are certainly indicative of enthusiasm heading into the midterms. Circumstances can always change before people head to the polls but, 36 days out from the election, Democrats and independents are equally, if not more, enthused than Republicans. The party cannot rely on their opponents' supporters simply staying home.

Despite President Donald Trump and his base’s sclerotic insistence that a blue wave isn't real, the voter registration data clearly demonstrates a far more engaged electorate that is likely to break for Democrats. Further, of the 106 House seats ranked as competitive by the Cook Political Report, 93 currently belong to Republicans. These all reveal that Democrats in are in very strong position to take back the House.

All of the polls and data show that voters are not registering to vote in order to make their voices heard, but rather to deliver a primal scream of rage to Trump and his fellow Republicans.

CORRECTION (Oct. 1, 2018, 1 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the percentage increase in voter registration in Colorado in the first eight months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2014. It rose 233 percent, not 333 percent.