Protesters gather in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Mike Licht/Flickr

It was only last Friday that Nate Cohn articulated the conventional wisdom about Democratic turnout in the 2018 midterm elections.

A wide range of evidence indicates that Democratic voters are poised to vote in numbers unseen in a midterm election in at least a decade.

Democrats have largely erased the turnout deficit that hobbled them during the Obama presidency, according to results from more than 50 New York Times Upshot/Siena College polls of the most competitive House battleground districts.

Democrats may even be poised to post higher turnout than Republicans, a rarity, in many relatively white suburban districts on Nov. 6.

But it’s not clear if this blue turnout surge will extend much further, particularly among young and nonwhite voters.

He went on to suggest that, to the extent that a blue wave materializes, it will be because of the support Democratic candidates receive from white suburban women. When it comes to the youth vote, he wrote that “just 38 percent of registered voters who are 18 to 34 years say they’re almost certain to vote.” That lines up pretty closely with a poll cited by USA Today in which only 35 percent of 18-29 year-olds are “absolutely certain” they will vote in November.

That can sound discouraging, can’t it? But to assume that, you have to completely ignore history. If we add some historical context, we learn that in the 2014 midterm elections, only 19.9 percent of 18-29 year olds voted. Here’s what that looks like over time:

The truth is that youth turnout in midterm elections somewhere between 35-40 percent would be historical in the modern era and could nearly double the number we saw in 2014. But that might still be low-balling it.

As part of his analysis, Nate Cohn also says that “16 percent of registered voters who are 18 to 34 tell us they’re not very likely to vote or not at all likely to vote.” So if 38 percent of young people are certain to vote and 16 percent are unlikely to do so, simply arithmetic tells us that 46 percent of young people are unsure about whether or not they’ll vote. That means that those who actually show up at the polls on November 6th could ramp up even farther. The latest NBC/WSJ poll hinted at the possibility by asking a different question. They wanted to know the level of interest in the midterm elections reported by different groups. Here are the results:

As you can see, the bad news is that young people rank near the bottom. But if that 51 percent who reported a high level of interest actually voted, it would even eclipse youth turnout in presidential elections.

There are a couple of other things in that NBC/WSJ poll that are important to note. Conventional wisdom also had it that Latino voters won’t turn out in this election. If the numbers in the above chart are accurate for states like Nevada and Arizona (a big “if” as I have documented recently), Republicans can kiss those senate seats goodbye and, as Blank Slate noted on twitter, Texas could be a toss-up.

The other issue of importance related to that poll was articulated by John Harwood.

President Donald Trump has turned one familiar feature of midterm election campaigns inside out: Democrats are now more likely to vote than Republicans.

That remarkable finding emerges from the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll just two weeks before Election Day. As the president’s job approval rose to an all-time high of 47 percent, Republicans narrowed their double-digit September deficit for control of Congress to seven percentage points among all registered voters.

But among the smaller group considered likely voters, the Democratic advantage grows to nine points, 50 percent to 41 percent.

“It’s something I’ve never seen before,” said Bill McInturff, the veteran Republican pollster who conducts the NBC/WSJ survey with Democratic counterpart Peter Hart. “The likely voter model tips toward the Democrats.”

Some prognosticators took that increase in Trump’s approval rating and ran with it.

But based on everything I’ve just written about young people and Latino voters, I’d suggest that Nate Silver nailed it in his response to that conclusion.

All of this, combined with emerging news about early voting turnout, indicates that the “likely voter” screens pollsters have been using—which are primarily based on past midterm elections—could be seriously flawed. While it’s true that errors could send close races in either direction, what we can say with some certainty is that the diverse Democratic coalition is definitely fired up.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.