WASHINGTON -- Spurred by anger over the recession and closely contested races in several large states, Americans voted in higher numbers than in midterm elections four years ago.
With more than 95 percent of precincts reporting, election data indicate that turnout Tuesday was up in at least nine states, including significant increases in Florida, Minnesota and Texas. Turnout appeared to be down slightly in several other states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Overall, turnout in the midterm elections was projected at 42 percent of registered voters, about 1.2 percentage points higher than in 2006.
The total popular vote nationwide was expected to reach about 90 million people, 6.2 million more than voted in 2006. About 131.1 million people voted in 2008. Turnout is higher for a presidential election than for midterm contests.
Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, said competitive races featuring tea party-backed candidates drew high voter turnout in Florida, South Carolina, Delaware and other states, with mixed results.
Tea party favorite Marco Rubio won a Senate seat in Florida and Nikki Haley was elected governor in South Carolina, while Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell was defeated in Delaware and Ken Buck appeared headed for a narrow loss in a Colorado Senate race.
Turnout in Delaware was up 5 percentage points to about 48 percent, largely because of O’Donnell’s star power, said Michael McDonald, an election turnout expert at George Mason University.
Even though she lost handily, she brought out voters both for and against her, in much the way that Sarah Palin energized the electorate in 2008, McDonald said.
"In Delaware, maybe a new Fox commentator has been born," he said.
Turnout was less robust in neighboring Pennsylvania, where only 41 percent of voters cast ballots, down 3 points from 2006. McDonald attributed the downturn to a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats and noted that Republicans won closely contested races for Senate and governor.
In Florida, GOP enthusiasm drove turnout up about 3 percentage points to an estimated 43.3 percent. Rubio won a three-way Senate race while Republican Rick Scott narrowly defeated Democrat Alex Sink for governor.
Turnout was up signicantly in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Minnesota, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia, Gans said. Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wyoming showed some of the bigger drops in voting percentages.
Tea party supporters accounted for about 4 in 10 voters Tuesday, and they voted overwhelmingly Republican, according to exit polls. Overall, just over 1 in 5 voters considered their House vote an expression of support for the tea party, while nearly as many called their vote a message of opposition to the group. Just over half said the tea party had no effect on their ballot.