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Political Experts: Early Signs Pointing To 'Considerably Higher' Midterm Election Turnout

(CBS Local)-- There's only a week until the midterm elections and there are several tight races for the House and Senate across the country. The Democrats must flip 23 Republican held seats in order to take control in the House.

One of the biggest factors expected to influence this year's midterm election races could be voter turnout. While numbers at the polls are always lower for a non-presidential election, Dr. Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and founder of the famed "Crystal Ball" newsletter that analyzes outcomes for pivotal races, expects a great increase in voters heading to the voting booths this November.

"Every early sign is pointing to considerably higher turnout than usual for a midterm, perhaps somewhere in the 40-45 percent range," Dr. Sabato told CBS Local. "Now that still isn't nearly good enough, but at least it suggests that many Americans are very engaged at the midpoint of the Trump presidency."

One of the other intriguing stories of the election season is the record number of women running for positions. According to CBS News, 257 women will be on the ballot next Tuesday. Dr. Andrew Lewis, Associate Professor of Politics at University of Cincinnati, believes the rise in female candidates will especially lead to a charge of determined voters on Election Day.

"For a midterm election, there is a substantial amount of enthusiasm," said Dr. Lewis. "I think the women candidates are particularly notable, as they might suggest longer term trends in representation. I expect that the spikes in early voting is likely to take away from Election Day voting, resulting in turnout numbers that are perhaps higher than 2014, but not reaching presidential-year levels."

Despite the enthusiasm, a recent study from Michigan State University says today's divide between Democrats and Republicans is the worst its ever been. Even though this study was completed before the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, which many believe only added to the already swollen divide and could impact undecided voters, Dr. Sabato doesn't think we should be prisoners of the moment to the Trump era.

"Those of us who lived through the late 1960s and early 1970s might dispute that characterization," said Dr. Sabato. "No question our polarization today is severe. Political argument is no longer reserved for the elites who follow every development closely. Most families can recount some vicious arguments and splits since Donald Trump came on the scene. And I see no chance whatsoever for repairing the deep rifts while Trump is president."

Still, Dr. Lewis believes the 24-hour news cycle lessens the impact that Kavanaugh's addition to the nation's highest court and the controversial debate that surrounded it will have next Tuesday.

"I am not sure that the Kavanaugh confirmation has done as much public damage as many commentators thought in the midst of it," said Dr. Lewis. "The public often keeps the court at arms-length, not lowering its approval even after highly visible, partisan decisions. I'm not sure that this will be much different in a few months, especially with the intensity of the news cycle.

While there are many issues that will shape elections in states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Georgia, elections throughout the course of history have proven the most important thing to voters is the letter next to a candidate's name.

"Polling shows that the two most powerful letters are 'D' and 'R' for the public, too. If you clearly define a nominee or policy as D or R, it pretty much determines how people will react," said Dr. Sabato.

This year's midterm elections will be held on Tuesday, November 6.

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