The 2018 mid-term elections were historic for many reasons, but perhaps the most important of those reasons was really big turnout. Turnout is not usually high in mid-term elections, and has averaged only 40 percent of eligible voters in last several decades. In 2018, a record 116 million people cast a ballot, based on preliminary data made available by states and analyzed by University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald at the U.S. Elections Project. Turnout in 2018 was equivalent to 49 percent of the nation’s voting-eligible population and the biggest turnout for mid-term since 1914.
Who turns out to vote matters greatly for representative democracy and in the 2018 mid-term elections there was a more diverse and younger electorate than in previous elections. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University estimates that 31% of eligible young people (including both students and non-students who turnout at lower rates) voted in the 2018 midterm elections, a dramatic increase over the youth turnout in 2014 and the highest level of youth participating in a midterm cycle in at least the last 25 years.
We know from our NSLVE data from the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tuft’s University that JMU’s turnout rate was just 8.8% in the 2014 mid-term elections. While we won’t know our campus-wide turnout for 2018 until sometime in 2019 when data is fully available and analyzed, we do know that there were almost as many voters in 2018 at JMU’s campus precinct (which primarily serves first-year students living in residence halls) as there were total voters in 2014. So, we expect to far exceed the 2014 turnout rate. In addition, based on Virginia Department of Elections data, Dr. Carah Ong Whaley, the Madison Center’s associate director, calculated turnout was up almost 50% at JMU’s campus precinct alone in 2018 compared to the 2017 elections.
Certainly external factors increased turnout at JMU, but turnout was also aided by the robust institutional approach that the university has to civic engagement, including educating, registering and encouraging voter participation.
One of the highlights to Election Day 2018 was Professors David Stringham and Jesse Rathgeber and their JMU Music Education students who used their skills, talents and time to rock the polls. As Mike Burns, national director of the Campus Vote Project, noted in an Inside Higher Ed article on college student voter turnout, these efforts help build a “culture of democratic engagement.”
This is a highlight reel from the MusEd Students Election Day. Watch closely and you’ll also see that the Madison Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Abe Goldberg, also joined in the musicking.
Thank you JMU for voting and thank you @JMUMusEd for being the change!