Youth voters and independents boosted Democrats this midterm, exit polls show
Turnout and demographic shifts help explain the unusual results.
Though majority control of the House still hangs in the balance as key results remain outstanding from the midterm elections, Democrats defied historical trends and months of political headwinds around President Joe Biden's unpopularity and voter concerns about inflation and the economy.
After polls closed on Nov. 8, Democrats held on to more seats in the House and Senate than is typical for the in-power party in a non-presidential election year, and they retained control of the Senate.
According to ABC News exit polling, that competitiveness was fueled by a number of factors, including voter passion about abortion access and antipathy to Trump-style election denialism and extremism.
But the exit polls also show notable shifts in turnout and voter preference by demographic: Broad backing from young voters and surprising strength among independents were part of what resulted in a successful night, according to ABC News' analysis.
Separately, women -- a swing voting bloc that has been widely courted in recent elections -- did not vote more than they typically do, according to the exit polling. Women made up 52% of the 2022 midterm votes and chose House Democrats by eight points over Republicans. That's 6 points less than 2020 and 7 points less than 2018.
Along racial lines, exit polling found that Black voters went for Democrats 73 points over Republicans, while white voters went for Republicans 18 points over Democrats. Among Hispanics, voters went for Democrats 21 points over Republicans.
The independent vote
In strong Republican years, ABC exit polling shows, independents typically break for the GOP -- by 7 points in 2016, 14 in 2014 and 19 in 2010. This year, according to exit polling, independents voted for Democratic House candidates over Republicans by 2 points.
This trend comes as 93% of Democrats said Biden was legitimately elected, as did 64% of independents -- a margin closer than the 28% of Republicans who said the same and an indication that Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 race have been somewhat widely rejected.
Among independents who accepted Biden as legitimate, 68% voted Democratic for the House.
The winner in the Pennsylvania governor's race, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, was boosted by the strongest showing for a winning gubernatorial candidate in the state among self-described moderates -- over 40 points -- in available data since 1992 and among independents -- by 29 points -- since 2006.
In Nevada, independent voters went for incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by 2 points in her successful campaign against Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, the exit polling shows. Cortez Masto actually lost that group by 10 points in 2016.
The youth vote: Gen Z and millennials
Young voters were a key group backing Democrats on Tuesday.
Nationally, 18-to-29-year-olds accounted for 12% of voters, according to the exit polls. But this year they favored Democratic House candidates by 28 points over Republican candidates. That's about the same as in 2020 -- and considerably better than in stronger Republican years. In 2016, for example, youth voters turned out for Democratic House candidates by 16 points over Republican candidates and by a 12-point margin in 2014.
In Wisconsin, young voters turned out overwhelmingly for Democratic candidate Mandela Barnes, the state lieutenant governor, voting for him by 38 points over incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, who narrowly defeated Barnes.
In Georgia, youth voters cast ballots for incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock by 29 points over his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker. The two are now projected to head to a Dec. 6 runoff.
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