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With little more than a month until the midterm elections, New Jersey Democrats have a registration momentum, at least on paper, in all but two of the state’s dozen congressional districts.
The demographics of the voting-age population in at least two close districts, the 7th in central Jersey and the 11th to its north, also seem to give an edge to candidates seeking to flip seats from red to blue.
Since the 2016 presidential election, the proportion of registered voters who identify as Democrats increased by more than those who are Republicans in every district but the 4th, where the GOP boosted its numbers by a larger percentage, and the 3rd, where both parties added voters at roughly the same rate. Both those districts are currently represented by Republicans, Chris Smith and Tom MacArthur, respectively. While political pundits consider Smith’s 4th District seat safe, they say MacArthur is neck and neck with Democratic challenger Andy Kim in the 3rd.
In the northernmost 5th District, which Josh Gottheimer swung from red to blue two years ago, the proportion of registered Democrats now surpasses Republicans for the first time in at least this decade.
Democrats are the outright majority of those registered, outnumbering even the unaffiliated, who are typically the most numerous, in five districts: the 1st in South Jersey; 8th, 9th and 10th in the northeast; and 12th centered in Mercer County. In addition to the 5th, there are three other districts — the 2nd, 3rd and 6th — in which Democrats outnumber Republicans. Only in the 4th, 7th and 11th do Republicans outnumber Democrats. But in the Republican 7th and 11th — both of which Democrats are trying to flip to blue — Democrats have added more than twice as many registered voters as Republicans since 2016.
Registration means nothing, however, unless people actually vote. “The Democratic voter pickup is fairly typical in the leadup to midterm elections,” said Matthew Hale, a professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University. “The party that just lost the presidency gets riled up and motivated. But registration isn't voting.”
Still, Krista Jenkins, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of its PublicMind Poll, said an increase in the number of Democrats “means bad news for the Republicans.” While not everyone who registered will ultimately cast a ballot, “registration is the first step to making it to the polls.”
Voter turnout typically falls in a nonpresidential election year: In 2014, just 36 percent of those registered in New Jersey went to the polls, compared with 67 percent in 2012 and 68 percent in 2016. But many speculate that this year’s midterm turnout will be higher than usual because the strong division between the parties has galvanized at least the party on the outs — the Democrats. That also may be true, however, for staunch supporters of the president.
“I saw a good amount of enthusiasm in my poll for voting,” said Jenkins, who released two polls this week, one giving Democratic incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez a 6-point lead over Republican challenger Bob Hugin, though that lead is slim given the poll’s 3.9-point margin of error. “Lots of people saying they’re definitely voting, paying close attention.”
With so many variables that can influence the election, the U.S. Census Bureau gave handicappers and prognosticators a gift this year, with the release of select demographic statistics for those who are eligible to vote — age 18 or older and U.S. citizens. Looking at the data from the 2017 American Community Survey and considering what pundits say about how likely certain people are to vote could provide some additional insights into the chances of one party or another to win a close race.
For one thing, women are expected to be even more sympathetic to Democratic candidates than usual this year, which could be significant in close districts. Women outnumber men in all New Jersey districts, but the spread is larger than most — 52.1 percent vs. 47.9 percent — in the 7th District in central Jersey, where the contest between Republican incumbent Leonard Lance and Democrat Tom Malinowski is considered a tossup.
“Gender seems to me to be the most important unknown right now,” Hale said. “It seems between Trump's own actions and the (Brett) Kavanaugh (for Supreme Court) hearing, that women ought to be sprinting away from the Republican brand. But that might not actually happen. If women come out in record numbers it should be a good election for Democrats. If they stay home, maybe not.”
A recent report by the Pew Research Center found that the more highly educated a person is, the more theywith the Democratic party. That could help Democrat Mikie Sherrill, who is trying to flip an open seat in north Jersey’s 11th District, which has been red for decades. The 11th had the greatest percentage of eligible voters who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree in the state, just over half, according to the census data. Not far behind was the 7th, where 49.9 percent of adult citizens had a four-year college degree or even higher level of education.
Age tends to be another predictor of party support, but people of different ages vote at different rates. While younger adults tend to skew blue and those in their 50s and older lean red, baby boomers and senior citizens are more reliable voters than Gen X and the millennials. New Jersey’s “youngest” district is the 8th in reliably Democratic Hudson County, while its “oldest” is Smith’s 4th along the Shore, which is the only New Jersey district that raters currently predict will remain Republican.
“Age is a tricky one,” Hale said. “Young people often register and then don't vote. President Obama captured young people, but it is not clear Democrats as a party are doing the same today.”
Race and ethnicity also used to forecast party, with blacks, Hispanics, and Asians strong supporters of Democrats. Here, the demographics would seem to help Republicans to hold onto seats in the three closest contests in the 3rd, 7th, and 11th; the eligible voter population is more than three-quarters non-Hispanic white in all three districts.
The dynamics of a final gauge, that of wealth, may have changed for this election. While higher-income voters have tended to lean red, last year’s revamping of federal income-tax laws to limit the deduction for state and local taxes to just $10,000 is expected to hurt many New Jerseyans, especially those paying high property taxes.
The wealthiest eligible voters, those whose median household income is more than $110,000, are in the close 7th and 11th districts.
“Wealth is going to be a weird one this time around,” Hale said. “The change in the SALT taxes at the federal level has lots of rich and really rich New Jersey people who have been Republicans forever giving Democrats a new look.”