Democrats failed to inspire Black voters in 2022. Can they up their game in time for 2024?

U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes sits at a restaurant table with two voters.
U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes, a Wisconsin Democrat, talks to supporters a few weeks before November’s election. He lost his race by 1 percentage point. Low turnout in Milwaukee may have made the difference.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Democrats did a mediocre job of inspiring Black voters to turn out in the 2022 midterm elections.

The turnout drop among Black voters — along with a smaller, but still notable, drop in Latino voter turnout — stood out among the top findings this week when the Census Bureau released data on who voted in 2022, a biennial report that political insiders eagerly anticipate.

Although Democrats did far better last year than many people had expected — holding their majority in the Senate and gaining ground in state legislatures — those turnout declines among Black and Latino voters probably cost the party its House majority.

Whether Democrats can change that over the next year and a half will be key to their chances of retaking the House in 2024 and play a major role in President Biden‘s reelection hopes.

A sharp turnout drop for some

Out of just under 243 million Americans potentially eligible to vote in 2022, 46% cast ballots in the midterm elections. That marked 2022 as one of the highest-turnout midterms in half a century, surpassed only by the record set four years earlier, in 2018, according to data compiled by University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald. (For those perusing the numbers, the census reports a slightly different set of numbers than McDonald does, but the pattern is the same).

Although turnout was high overall, some groups voted at more robust rates than others.

In 2022, turnout among Black voters dropped by about 10 percentage points, falling to 42%, compared with almost 52% four years earlier. Latino turnout dropped, as well, by about 5 percentage points, as did turnout among Asian voters. Turnout among white voters dropped by only a bit over 1 point.


Some decline from 2018 was probably inevitable — turnout that year was the highest in a century. But the steeper declines among communities of color meant that the 2022 electorate was whiter and older than those who voted in 2018. That marked the first time since 1990 that the U.S. electorate was whiter than in the previous election cycle, although the 2022 electorate remained more diverse than that of 2014 or any prior elections.

Unlike many election years, in which turnout patterns are very similar from one state to the next, voting in 2022 showed a notable split.

In many swing states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, where abortion rights were the dominant voting issue, turnout was fairly high, including among younger voters, and Democrats made significant gains.

In other states, including heavily Democratic ones like New York and California, in which voters did not feel a significant threat to abortion rights, turnout was sharply down from 2018, especially among younger voters and voters of color.

Those declines could have cost Democrats nine or 10 House races last year, said David Wasserman, the House expert at the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter whose analyses of congressional races are widely followed in both parties. Republicans only needed to flip five seats to capture the majority.

Wasserman rattled off a list of districts across the country, from Virginia Beach, Va., to California’s Central Valley, in which turnout declines among Black and Latino voters probably made the difference in 2022.


If they “could bring that turnout up to the level of white voters, Democrats would be in the majority” in the House, he said in an interview.

In addition, a number of analysts point to relatively low turnout in heavily Black neighborhoods of Milwaukee to explain Mandela Barnes’ loss of a close Senate race in Wisconsin last year. Barnes lost to incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson by 1 percentage point.

Because 2024 is a presidential election year, turnout will be higher across the board than it was in the midterm — that’s been the pattern as far back as election data exist. The key question will be the relative size of the increase among different groups, said McDonald.

“In a high-turnout election, you tend to get the people who are on the periphery of voting,” he said. That means people with “lower education levels, which tends to be associated these days with Republicans, but also younger people and people of color” who tend to favor Democrats. Election outcomes will depend on which of those trends is stronger.

Over the long term, the way the electorate is changing isn’t good news for the current version of the GOP: Younger generations of Americans are much more diverse than their elders and oppose the Republican position on a number of issues. Demographic change “is likely going to accelerate” as the millennial generation, which is very diverse, moves into their 30s and 40s, the point at which people tend to start voting more regularly, said McDonald.

All that’s a problem for a Republican Party that has largely defined itself as representing the interests of older, white, rural voters.

But those changes move slowly. In 2024, Democrats can’t count on demographics alone to lift their fortunes.


Instead, the party, that depends heavily on younger voters and voters of color, needs to find ways to inspire more of them to cast ballots.

In Black communities, those two needs coincide, said Jermaine House, senior communications director at HIT Strategies, a Washington-based firm that specializes in reaching minority and younger voters.

“Democrats have a real weakness with young Black voters, and that’s a problem they have to solve,” House said. The problem is especially acute among younger Black men, who are “more open to Republicans targeting them with messages on the economy and on masculinity,” he added.

Part of the problem involves the objective conditions of young people’s lives, House said.

“They look around, and they don’t think their lives and their material conditions have changed” despite Democratic policy successes that likely will affect their communities, he said.

But that problem is worsened by Democratic messages — and often messengers — who fall flat with younger voters of color, he said.

In 2018, a lot of young voters turned out to repudiate then-President Trump. That motivation, plus the racial justice protests that followed the death of George Floyd in May 2020 at the hands of police in Minneapolis, helped drive turnout in 2020, House said.


By 2022, however, racial justice protests had sharply declined, Trump wasn’t directly on the ballot, and young voters saw Democratic elected officials — many of them focused on improving the party’s standing among white voters — arguing with activists over issues of police funding and racial justice.

“They don’t see the party as standing with them,” House said. “Racial justice issues drive younger voters regardless of race,” he added. They see “the Democratic Party as not ready to deliver that.”

Inspiring those voters without alienating older, moderate white voters, whose support they also need, is a difficult balancing act for Democratic elected officials. Trump has made that balance easier by terrifying all the disparate parts of the Democratic coalition. But Democrats can’t count on him to unify their ranks forever.

The coming election cycle would be a good time to figure out a message that would work once he passes from the scene.

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