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Five Things to Watch in Today’s Election

Expert Weighs in on Early Voting, Role of Young Voters and Rise of Women Candidates

By Liam Farrell

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Photo by John T. Consoli

More than 660,000 Maryland voters have already cast their ballots in this year’s highly anticipated midterm election, doubling early turnout from four years ago.

From city council seats and governor’s mansions to the halls of Congress, a lot is up for grabs in today’s highly anticipated midterm elections.

Maryland Today asked Frances Lee, professor in the Department of Government and Politics, expert on the U.S. Congress and author of “Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign,” for the questions she'll be asking as the returns come in.

How nationalized will the results be?
Midterm elections are usually tough for a president’s party, and a Washington Post-ABC News national poll released Sunday found Democrats holding a 51–44 advantage among likely voters. So while it appears that Democrats are poised for gains around the country, Lee said there are always exceptions in which particular candidates exceed expectations. Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan appears to be one, as opinion polls predict he will get a lot of cross-party support from Democrats.

“He looks like he will greatly outperform,” Lee said.

Does early voting enthusiasm carry over?
Tens of millions of voters already cast their ballots through early voting, with some states far surpassing 2014 levels. For example, in Maryland, 661,276 ballots were cast early, more than double from four years ago.

But Lee remained cautious about whether that shows a groundswell demanding new leadership, as those numbers may indicate only that a larger share of voters are getting accustomed to early voting. Many early voters would have voted anyway on Election Day.

“Unless they also reflect a broad swath of new people turning out,” she said, “you won’t see much change in overall participation.”

Will younger people vote?
If Democrats pick up seats, they may have to thank voters ages 18 to 29. Lee said this demographic tends to lean Democratic. But their turnout has been sluggish in midterm elections: The highest midterm turnout for this group was only 21 percent in 1986, and it was just 16 percent in 2014. A Harvard poll released last week said that 40 percent in that age bracket plans to definitely vote this time.

“A surge of participation from young voters would be advantageous to Democrats,” Lee said.

What is the Senate breakdown?
The third of the seats up for the U.S. Senate this election is “very unfriendly” for Democrats, Lee said, and it won’t get much better in 2020. So if Republicans widen the party split in that chamber from 51–49, Democrats may face long odds to winning the full control of Congress even if they win back the White House in two years.

“It’s not just a question of who wins and who loses (on Election Day),” she said, "but of the margins of control."

How do women candidates fare?
With events such as the 2018 Women’s March and advocacy around the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, a record number of women are running for office. By tomorrow morning, the U.S. could have its first African-American female governor, in Georgia, and political prognosticators think more than 100 women could be taking seats in the House for the first time, a big jump from the current 84.

“It’s an unusual year in terms of women’s activism and willing to be candidates,” Lee said.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.