Opinion: What we can learn from Aug. 2 turnout

Abortion rights may not be on the ballot, but they will undoubtedly influence the November election.

You’ve probably heard a lot of people try to extrapolate from the Aug. 2 results to forecast what will happen on Nov. 8.

Doing so is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

November is a different election with different motivations for voter turnout. The question of abortion rights is not on the ballot for a direct democratic vote the way it was in August.

Between 20% and 30% of “No” voters in August were registered Republicans. On the issue of abortion alone, those Republicans voted that it should remain legal, but this issue isn’t a priority for many Republicans when there are other issues at play in the election.

In national polling, abortion is battling with inflation as the top political issue of the midterms.

In the polls, Republicans are more likely to say inflation is the most important issue, while Democrats and independents still seem to be mostly mobilized by abortion rights.

So, if the August results can’t tell us who will win the general election, what can they tell us?

It’s mostly about voter turnout.

Turnout is likely to remain higher than previous midterm elections and it is likely due to increased turnout among specific demographics of voters.

Women, especially young women, had a massive surge in turnout in August.

In the months leading up to the election, women made up a majority of first-time registered voters. Also, the number of women registering to vote increased about 35% over the summer compared with previous years. There was only a 9% increase among men.

Furthermore, women cast 56% of all votes on the amendment. The 12-point gender gap in turnout was larger than any recent election and more than double the 2018 gender gap.

Additionally, 21% of all voters in August were young people — those under the age of 35. In the 2018 primary, only 14% of ballots were cast by this same age group.

Turnout among Latino voters was also higher than in any other midterm election. In fact, it was higher turnout than we’ve ever seen from Latino voters with the exception of the 2020 presidential election.

Now that these citizens have voted, many of them for the first time, they’re more likely to vote again in the future because with each election they become more familiar with the voting process. Familiarity makes it easier for voters to navigate an increasingly complex system.

In general, these turnout trends are good news for the Democratic Party, which holds a majority of women, young people and Latino voters within its coalition. But it’s far from a guaranteed victory for any of the statewide Democrats on the ballot.

We will likely once again see elevated turnout from the most ardent pro-life voters. While abortion is not on the ballot, the six judicial retention elections could dramatically alter the makeup of the Kansas Supreme Court — the very court that made the decision, in Hodes and Nauser v. Kansas, that abortion rights are protected by the state constitution.

Pro-life activists are certainly motivated to mobilize their voters against retaining these justices. A new slate of justices could potentially overturn the decision on the Hodes case if they were politically inclined to do so.

There’s a lot we don’t know about what will happen in November. Many statewide races are too close to call. And analyzing the Aug. 2 results can set some general expectations, but it can’t give us the answers.

The results of the Nov. 8 election are between Kansas voters and the ballot box.

— Alexandra Middlewood is an assistant professor of political science at Wichita State University.


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