Utah’s November 2018 election was historic in its turnout rate. Though it was a midterm election, voters showed up at rates similar to a presidential election and not seen in nearly 50 years, with a 52 percent turnout. This was especially notable considering the previous midterm election, in 2014, the voting rate was one of the lowest it had ever been, with a 30 percent voter turnout. These rates consider the percent of “eligible voters”- or U.S. Citizens who are over 18- who voted in a given year.
This trend was not exclusive to Utah. Nearly every state saw an increase in voter turnout between 2014 and 2018, and the average increase was about 11 points. However, no state saw such a large increase as Utah.
Why the Change?
Several different factors have been proposed to explain the large increase in voter participation nationwide. This election was two years after the election of Donald Trump as president, and the United States were very politically divided. Several high profile cases had left many people deeply unhappy about the status of women and gender equality in the country. President Trump had come under fire for several allegations of misogyny and sexual misconduct in the short time he had been in office. Global women’s marches in early 2018 mobilized women into political involvement to show support for the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. Additionally, the 2018 election came shortly after the high profile trials involving Supreme Court Justice nominee and later appointee Brett Kavanaugh, in which he was accused of sexual assault and misconduct by several women.
Unsurprisingly, these issues mobilized women voters at a high rate. The difference between the number of women who voted in 2018 and 2014 was higher than the difference in the number of men that voted in 2018 and 2014. Though women in Utah have historically been quite politically involved, the rate of involvement had been slowly falling, and in 2014 only 37 percent of eligible women voted. In 2018 however, this number jumped to 60 percent.
The increase in women voters has other explanations as well. In 2018, Utah had seven ballot measures, more than any other year in Utah’s history. Ballot measures are issues put up to vote on by the population to be either approved or defeated. This is significant because women tend to be more interested in certain issues. According to a 2019 study by the Utah Women and Leadership program, Utah women are interested in issues like education, healthcare, air quality, state taxes, and homelessness. Several of the ballot measures dealt with these issues. One question asked about a gas tax increase for education. Another discussed expanding Utah Medicaid. Another would have legalized medical marijuana. Summaries of the initiatives are shown in the figure below.
Why it Matters
It is important to consider the implications of more female voters in Utah. More and more, women have been voting Democrat. Women have tended to be more Democrat then men for many decades, but this gap is slowly widening, as shown in the graph below. In the 2016 election, 60 percent of women who voted for one of the two major parties voted for a democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Only 47% of men did the same. Perhaps the women’s vote will begin to slowly change the political climate in traditionally Republican Utah.
Even within the Republican party, research has shown that women vote quite differently than their male counterparts. Though traditionally women have been more conservative then men, this began to shift in the 1980s. According to a 2016 study, women today tend to be more moderate on issues like childcare, education, the millionaire tax, and gun control. Additionally, they tend to be more liberal on social issues as a whole. These are important issues in both parties, and are likely issues that will come up in upcoming state and national legislative sessions.
These gender differences tend to be more apparent in the Republican party, so we can expect to see them in Utah, where the Republican party is strong.
2018 was also historic in the number of women candidates for and elected to congress. A record-breaking 103 women were elected to congress, surpassing the previous record of 84, and leading to what many called “The Year of the Woman”. Perhaps the number of women, combined with the deep unsatisfaction of many women in the perceived lack of equality contributed to this outcome.
Just because one election had an encouraging turnout, does not necessarily mean that future elections will see the same results. Politically engaged people who vote have the potential to make a significant difference on the outcome of these issues through their unique viewpoints. Women voters have always had unique viewpoints on issues, coming from their different experiences. It is important to recognize these differences in ideology and preferences if we want to keep women, or anyone, interested and involved in voting in future elections.
Ballotpedia. “Utah 2018 Ballot Measures.” https://ballotpedia.org/Utah_2018_ballot_measures.
Barnes, Tiffany D, and Cassese, Erin C. 2017. “American Party Women: A Look at the Gender Gap within Parties.” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 70(1) 127–141. DOI: 10.1177/1065912916675738.
Domonoske, Camila. 2018. “A Boatload of Ballots: Midterm Voter Turnout Hit 50-Year High.” NPR. November 8, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/11/08/665197690/a-boatload-of-ballots-midterm-voter-turnout-hit-50-year-high.
Christopher F. Karpowitz, Christopher F., Monson, Quin J., Preece, Jessica Robinson., and Gimenez, Alejandra Teresita. “Selecting for Masculinity: The Double Bind and Women's Representation in the Republican Party.” Accessed November 24, 2019.
Cooney, Samantha. 2018. “Here are Some of the Women Who Made History in the Midterm Elections.” Time. November 19, 2018, https://time.com/5323592/2018-elections-women-history-records/.
Misra, Jordan. 2019. “Voter Turnout Rates Among All Voting Age and Major Racial and Ethnic Groups Were Higher Than in 2014.” April 23, 2019, https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/04/behind-2018-united-states-midterm-election-turnout.html.
Office of the Lieutenant Governor. 2019. “2018 General Election Canvass.” https://elections.utah.gov/Media/Default/2018%20Election/2018%20General%20Election%20Canvass.pdf.
Schaffner, Brian F. 2018. “These 5 charts explain who voted how in the 2018 midterm election.” November 10, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/11/10/these-5-charts-explain-who-voted-how-in-the-2018-midterm-election/.
Scribner, Robbyn T and Madsen, Susan R. 2019. “Utah Women Stats Research Snapshot.” September 4, 2019, https://www.uvu.edu/uwlp/docs/uwsvoting2019.pdf.
United States Census Project. “Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2014.” July 2015, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-577.html.
United States Election Project. “Voter Turnout.” Accessed November 24, 2019. http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/voter-turnout-data.