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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The midterm elections may have been a sign of what's ahead for the 2020 presidential election: experts say the voter turnout could be the highest in a century.

The big picture: According to Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida, turnout for the 2020 presidential election could be as high as 67% — the highest it's been since at least 1916. If that happens, President Trump will have a tougher fight for a second term.

  • He's driving turnout among those most unhappy with him (younger voters and people of color) even when he's not on the ballot.
  • And Trump voters aren't a growing demographic group. The share of whites with less than a 4-year degree — Trump's constituency — dropped by 3% from 2014 to 2018.

Between the lines: McDonald is basing his prediction of "a hundred-year storm" on the 2018 midterms, which had the highest off-year election turnout in more than a century (50%). He says that momentum will only get stronger.

"It doesn't seem to be the candidates who were running in 2018; there wasn't hyper competition driving turnout; some states made it easier to vote, but that can't explain it because the increase was happening in every state," McDonald said. "So the only explanation is Donald Trump because he’s the only major factor that’s changed in our politics since 2014."

  • Turnout in the 2016 presidential election was 60%.

"The safest prediction in politics is for a giant turnout in 2020," said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. "Nobody's going to believe the polls after 2016, and everyone will assume a tight race."

  • "Anti-Trump Democrats and the pro-Trump base will both set human adrenaline records — the intensity across the country is going to be spectacular. Let's hope the polling places can accommodate the crowds."

With that kind of increase, turnout rates would likely go up for everybody. But:

  • Older white people already tend to vote at high rates, and they're close to their maximum turnout already.
  • By contrast, you'll see bigger turnout increases among young people, people of color, and low-income people — generally important constituencies for the Democratic Party — because they vote in lower numbers.
  • From 2014 to 2018, turnout among whites with a 4-year degree went up 17%, while non-white voters' turnout increased by 15%.

Yes, but: There could be some increase among Trump voters, too. Turnout among whites without a 4-year degree went up by 12% in the same period. "I'd imagine these people are going to be activated in 2020 with Trump on the ballot," McDonald said.

While the country is becoming more diverse, it's also getting older, particularly in places like Ohio and throughout the Midwest, according to the 2020 Census Bureau projections.

  • That's another group that Trump tends to perform well with with, especially older white voters.

The Trump campaign isn't buying it. "Predicting turnout this far in advance of an election is a fool's errand," said campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, noting that there's no sure way to know which voters will turn out.

The bottom line: For all of his struggles in the polls, Trump is the incumbent and he has a booming economy. But a historic election turnout could wipe out those advantages — and the early signs suggest that's exactly what we're about to get.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
17 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Report: John Kerry plans to visit China ahead of Biden's climate summit

John Kerry. Photo: Zach Gibson / Stringer

John Kerry, President Biden's special climate envoy, is expected to travel to China next week for meetings with officials aimed at boosting collaboration, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

Why it matters: China is the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter and the U.S. is second-largest.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Second senior Matt Gaetz aide resigns amid federal investigation

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) walking out of the Capitol in January 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Devin Murphy, Rep. Matt Gaetz's legislative director, has stepped down amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations against the Florida Republican congressman, the New York Times first reported and Axios has confirmed.

The latest: "It's been real," Murphy wrote in an email, obtained by Axios, to Republican legislative directors on Saturday morning, with the subject line: "Well...bye."