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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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November 19, 2018

A Very Blue Midterm For California Republicans

As a resident of the Golden State of California, I have been impressed by the gradually building landslide this state’s Democrats have built as the vote slowly came in on and after November 6 thanks to Democratic-passed laws aimed at making it easier to vote and making sure every vote is counted.  I wrote an assessment at New York:

California, already a blue bastion in which Democrats held the legislature, every statewide elected position, both U.S. Senate seats, and a solid majority of U.S. House seats, managed to become even more Democratic on November 6.

Democrats regained the state legislative supermajorities they won in 2016 (they had lost that margin in the state senate thanks to a recall, and temporarily lost it in the state assembly due to resignations over sexual-misconduct charges), giving new Democratic governor Gavin Newsom veto-proof support for this agenda. Republicans again failed to win any statewide offices; the closest they came was former Republican insurance commissioner Steve Poizner’s just-short effort to reclaim his old job as an independent. And most importantly, they have lost four U.S. House seats out of the 14 they currently control, with two more losses more likely than not as late returns (mostly mail ballots postmarked on or near Election Day) continue to trend Democratic, as the Los Angeles Times notes:

“California Republicans lost a fourth seat in the House on Tuesday as Democrat Josh Harder gained enough votes to oust GOP Rep. Jeff Denham in the San Joaquin Valley….

“In Orange County’s latest ballot count Tuesday, Republican Rep. Mimi Walters fell 261 votes behind her Democratic challenger, Katie Porter. Walters finished election night more than 6,200 votes ahead, but her lead steadily dwindled until it vanished on Tuesday.

“Young Kim, the Republican running to succeed GOP Rep. Ed Royce of Fullerton, saw her lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros shrink to 711 votes in the updated Orange and Los Angeles county tallies.”

By my rough calculation, losing six seats would leave Republicans with the fewest California House members since 1944, when the state only had 23 districts. The GOP did better in House races even in such notable Democratic landslide years as 1964, 1974, 2006, and 2008.

These very blue results for Republicans extended beyond their dismal performance in electoral contests. The GOP invested heavily in a ballot initiative to repeal a big 2017 fuel-tax increase that was being used to deal with a massive backlog of road and bridge repairs; Republicans very much hoped it would drive voters to the polls in their Southern California and Central Valley strongholds, saving endangered officeholders. It didn’t seem to work, and the initiative itself was trounced.

The depths to which California Republicans have descended have already spurred calls for the party to distance itself from Donald Trump, who is pretty clearly a millstone around the elephant’s neck in this particular part of the country. A widely quoted op-ed by Republican former legislator Kristin Olsen didn’t mince words:

“The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time. The Grand Old Party is dead – partly because it has failed to separate itself from today’s toxic, national brand of Republican politics….

“While the rest of the nation saw a mix of Republican and Democrat victories, we in California experienced a blue tsunami. It looks as if Democrats will win nearly every target seat, including some in districts that have been historically considered ‘safe’ for Republicans.

“It is time for a New Way. And if the Republican Party can’t evolve, it may be time for a third party, one that will appeal to disenfranchised voters in the Republican and Democratic parties who long for better representation and a better California for all.”

If this sounds alarmist, it’s not that different from the position taken earlier this year by the last Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in helping to launch a moderate GOP organization called (probably not coincidentally) “New Way:”

“Mr. Schwarzenegger said the Republican Party had to be ‘environmentally progressive, socially liberal and fiscally conservative’ in order to be competitive.

“’The politics of division and anger and resentment can drive a strong base to the polls, yes,’ he said. ‘But it is tearing our country apart at the seams. And nothing is getting done.'”

Having alienated the state’s large and growing minority populations via years of anti-immigrant demagoguery and law-and-order appeals, and now beginning to lose its ancient suburban base via fidelity to Trump, California Republicans have richly earned their bad situation. It’s hard to imagine them going back and starting over, but that may be what the situation demands.


Political Strategy Notes

In Ruy Teixeira’s op-ed “The midterms gave Democrats clear marching orders for 2020” in The Washington Post, he shows why Democrats must do just a little bit better with white non-college voters: “Where Democrats succeeded, how did they succeed? And where they failed, how did they fail? The formula for success in the Upper Midwest seems clear: Carry white college graduates, strongly mobilize nonwhite voters, particularly blacks, and hold deficits among white non-college-educated voters in the range of 10 to 15 points. Unlike Hillary Clinton in 2016 (she was obliterated among white non-college-educated voters in state after state), Democrats in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota got all three parts of the formula right in the midterms…Brown in Ohio got it right, too. According to exit polls, he carried white college graduates by five points and lost white non-college-educated voters by a mere 10 points. Cordray lost white non-college-educated voters by 22 points. In a state where white non-college-educated voters make up well more than half the electorate, that was enough to sink him…Success against Trump in 2020 in the Upper Midwest will depend on repeating this formula. The necessity to keep down deficits among white non-college-educated voters, especially in rural and small-town areas, will be hard with Trump on the ballot. But the 2018 results show Democrats the way in the Upper Midwest.”

Teixeira continues, “The Southwestern success formula: Carry or come close to carrying white college graduates; gain strong turnout and support from nonwhites, particularly Latinos; cap the deficits among white non-college-educated voters in the low 20s. Democrats can get away with higher deficits among white non-college-educated voters because the nonwhite share of voters in these states is much higher than in the Midwest…In 2018, this formula worked in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and in the Arizona Senate race, with notably strong Latino support, but it failed in the Texas Senate race. Why? O’Rourke also drew strong Latino support, and his performance among white college-educated voters was quite good for a Democrat in Texas. But his deficit among white non-college-educated voters was a disaster: O’Rourke lost these voters by 48 points, according to the exit polls.” In the south, Teixeira notes, “Democrats need to be competitive among white college-educated voters in Florida, while avoiding deficits among white non-college-educated voters that reach into the 30s. In Georgia, Democrats must keep their deficit among white college-educated voters under 20 points and stop their white non-college-educated deficit from ballooning out of control…in Florida, the deficit among white non-college-educated voters was 30 points or a little higher and, in Georgia, the same deficit was a yawning 65 points. Whittle down those deficits, maintain nonwhite-voter mobilization and reasonable competitiveness among white college-educated voters, and Democrats have a path to victory in these key Southern states.”

“Beyond the failure of moderates,” writes Vann R. Newkirk in “The Democrats’ Deep-South Strategy Was a Winner After All” in The Atlantic, “the most compelling evidence for the viability of a progressive strategy comes from farther down the ballot. Across the country, progressive ballot initiatives fared surprisingly well. Indeed, measures against gerrymandering, in favor of medical marijuana, in favor of higher minimum wages, in favor of Medicaid expansion, and in favor of criminal-justice reform received broad bipartisan support in several states, and actually outperformed Democrats running for statewide office. In Florida, even as Gillum conceded early, Amendment 4—a ballot initiative restoring the right to vote to more than 1 million people in Florida who were previously disenfranchised due to felony convictions—passed a 60 percent vote threshold and will become law. Gillum championed that amendment…Medicaid expansion, the main policy foundation of Abrams’s campaign, passed on ballot initiatives in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah; minimum-wage hikes—part of all three of the Democratic darlings’ platforms—won in Missouri and Arkansas. Voters in Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri moved to take gerrymandering out of the hands of politicians. Other significant criminal-justice reforms passed in Florida and Louisiana…What this means is that though Gillum and O’Rourke may have lost—and Abrams may be on her way—voters across the country, even some in deep-red states, are amenable to the kinds of policies that the Democratic trio championed. And support for these policies is likely even stronger than Tuesday’s results show. Medicaid expansion polls well nationally and in states that haven’t adopted it, as do minimum-wage increases. The mechanisms needed to fund those programs aren’t quite so beloved, but as Tuesday showed, voters are voluntarily choosing to implement progressive reforms and to pay for them.”

In Nate Cohn’s “Weak Spots in Democrats’ Strong Midterm Results Point to Challenges in 2020” at The Upshot,” he writes that “Democrats can muscle their way through those disadvantages with a big enough win, like their seven-point advantage in the House popular vote. But white voters without a degree are overrepresented in the most important Midwestern battleground states. The most straightforward alternative for Democrats goes through Florida, which probably gave Republicans their most promising results last week.” Cohn adds, “To win the presidency, Democrats will probably need at least one of Florida, Arizona or Michigan, or else they’ll most likely need to win a state where they lost more decisively in 2016 — like North Carolina, Georgia or Texas. Democrats fell short, or seemed on track to fall short, in prominent races in those three states last week.”

“With the results of the November midterm elections, we have officially witnessed the end of Rubinomics,” Chris Hughes writes at The Nation. “Former Treasury secretary Bob Rubin was the ringleader of an incremental, neoliberal economics ascendant in the Democratic Party in the 1990s and through the Obama years. The Rubin school oversaw the deregulation of banking and finance, free-trade agreements with insufficient worker and environmental protections, and the dismantling of core parts of the safety net with Bill Clinton’s “welfare reform” of 1996…A new cohort of candidates this year chose to run on a clear, unapologetic economic progressivism as good politics and good policy. A new analysis found that two-thirds of the incoming Democratic freshman class in Congress campaigned on some form of Medicare for All or the expansion of Social Security. Nearly 80 percent campaigned on tax credits that benefit working families or on rolling back Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy. The election showed that the percolating economic progressivism of newly elected Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley was not just a flash in the pan—it’s a politics that works at the ballot.”

“Things are looking up for the Democrats, who are poised to grow their House majority in 2020,” Alex Shephard observes in his article, “Don’t Blow This, Democrats: Impeaching President Trump will only help the Republican Party” at The New Republic: “From infrastructure to health care (including Medicare for All), the party’s policy agenda is broadly popular. They may not regain the Senate until 2022, due to yet another unfavorable map in 2020, but impeachment talk would only make that harder, as polling suggests it would turn off the rural voters they need to win back seats in states like Ohio. In the meantime, the odds are only growing that the economic recovery will sputter, feeding the growing backlash against Trump and Republicans. And the GOP under Trump seems intent on appealing only to white men, a demographic that shrinks by the year.”

Some statistics from The Center for American Women in Politics: “A record number of women will serve in the U.S. Congress in January 2019, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers…In the 116th Congress, at least 125 (105D, 19R, 1 pending) women will serve overall, increasing the percentage of women in Congress from 20% to 23% at minimum. That includes the 124 (105D, 19R) women who have already been declared winners, as well as a guaranteed seat for a woman in an undecided all-female contest in the House (CA-45). There are five additional House races featuring a woman candidate that also remain too close to call (CA-39, GA-7, NY-22, NY-23, UT-4)…At least 102 (88D, 13R, 1 pending) women will serve in the U.S. House (previous record: 85 set in 2016), including a minimum of 43 (42D, 1R) women of color. Women will be at least 23% of all members of the U.S. House, up from 19.3% in 2018…At least 23 (17D, 6R) women will serve in the U.S. Senate (previous record: 23), including 4 (4D) women of color. Women will be at least 23% of all members of the U.S. Senate, matching women’s current level of Senate representation…9 (6D, 3R) women have already won races for governor in 2018.”

A pretty good video primer on voter purging from vox.com:

Congratulations to Carol Anderson on her book, “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy” making the Washington Post’s “Best Books of 2018” list: According the the summary blurb, “In a kind of sequel to her book “White Rage,” Anderson examines voter suppression tactics since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that, she argues, account for the precipitous decline of black voters in the 2016 election. According to the Emory professor, that drop-off was not a one-time anomaly but rather evidence of a systemic hijacking of our democracy that involved purging voters, gerrymandering, instituting voter ID laws, closing polling places and preventing felons from voting. Her bleak conclusion: “In short, we’re in trouble.” Bloomsbury.” A longer review by Timothy Smith is here.

Teixeira: How Did Demographic Groups Shift Support from 2016 to 2018?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

As they promised, Catalist/Yair Ghitza have now released their estimates of voter support by group for the 2018 election, with comparisons to previous elections back to 2008. They previously did the same thing for voter composition in 2018. So now we have both and it’s a great resource.

As I noted about Catalist’s earlier estimates of voter composition, these estimates of voter support differ substantially from those of the exit polls.That doesn’t necessarily mean we should just rely on the Catalist data and disregard everything else. Their methodology, while sound, has a lot of moving parts and is almost certainly not getting everything exactly right. Plus, they will be revising their 2018 estimates over time as more data becomes available. However, I do believe that, given the well-documented problems of the exit polls, it is quite plausible that the Catalist data are “righter” than the exits even if not exactly right.

There’s a lot in Ghitza’s report and even more in the spreadsheet the report links to. The report focuses on shifts from the 2016 Presidential to 2018 Congressional election, which seems appropriate under the current political circumstances. Here are some of the most intriguing shifts.

1. Young voters (18-29) supported Democrats by 44 points in 2018 up 18 points from 2016. Moreover, white young voters gave Democrats an impressive 26 point margin in 2018. For that matter, Democrats were also +9 on white voters 30-44. That means Democrats carried all white voters under 45 in 2018 and quite easily at that!

2. As other data sources suggest, Democrats carried white college voters in 2018 (+5) with a solid shift relative to 2016. Both white college women and men contributed to this shift but the largest contribution was by white college women. White noncollege voters, on the other hand, continued to be a problem at -26, only a slight improvement over the previous election.

3. Among nonwhite groups, Asians showed the largest support gains for the Democrats. But, contrary to the exit polls, Hispanics showed a slight slippage in support.

4. Democrats carried suburban white college voters by 7 points, representing a strong 12 point shift over 2016 in the Democrats’ favor. This is more less as expected.

5. But by and large, the strongest shifts in the Democrats’ direction were within rural areas! Comparing overall urban vs. suburban vs. rural areas, the respective pro-Democratic shifts were 1, 5 and 7 points. You see roughly the same pattern when comparing urban whites vs. suburban whites vs. rural whites. You even see a 7 point shift toward the Democrats among white noncollege rural voters!

Even more amazing, the Catalist data show a 25 point shift toward the Democrats among rural 18-29 year olds and a 17 point shift among 30-44 year olds. Most mind-blowing of all, Democrats actually carried rural 18-29 year olds in 2018 by 8 points.

There’s something very interesting going on here!

White Evangelicals in the Midterms

After some more examination of exit polls–taken with a grain of salt, of course–l wrote at New York about some findings involving white evangelical voters.

[I]t seems this voting bloc faithfully shows up at the polls in all kinds of political weather; white Evangelicals were an identical 26 percent of the electorate in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018. Their support level for Republicans is uniformly high, but does vary somewhat according to the overall results of a given election. In U.S. House races, white Evangelicals were reported to have given Republicans 78 percent in the strong pro-GOP midterm election of 2014, and a lower 75 percent in the strong pro-Democratic midterm of 2018. In 2016, a very close race in which white Evangelical leaders were outspokenly pro-GOP, their rank and file gave Donald Trump 80 percent, and Republican House candidates an amazing 84 percent.

The perception that white Evangelicals are especially happy with Trump was reinforced by their voting behavior in some of the key 2018 Senate races where POTUS was heavily involved. In Indiana, where Trump campaigned twice during the last week of the midterms (alongside his conspicuously Evangelical Hoosier vice-president Mike Pence), white Evangelicals rose from 39 percent of the electorate in 2016 to 41 percent, and gave GOP Senate nominee Mike Braun 72 percent of their vote (three points higher than winning Republican candidate Todd Young in 2016). Braun won. In Missouri, Trump also made a late appearance for GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley. The percentage of the electorate represented by white Evangelicals rose from 35 percent to 38 percent, and Hawley got 75 percentof it, a higher percentage than winning GOP candidate Roy Blunt in 2016. In Florida, Trump campaigned for Senate candidate Rick Scott and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis. The white Evangelical share of the vote there rose by an amazing nine points, from 20 percent in 2016 to 29 percent this year. Scott won 80 percent of this elevated vote, and DeSantis won 77 percent (not quite as much as the otherworldly 84 percent won by Marco Rubio — a particular Evangelical favorite — during his easy 2016 win, but still an impressive showing).

Perhaps the best way to capture the impact of white Evangelical Republicanism is to look at the partisan leanings of the rest of the electorate. In the 2014 midterms — again, a solid Republican year — non–white Evangelicals, representing nearly three-fourths of the electorate, went Democratic by a 55/43 margin. In the 2016 presidential election, non–white Evangelicals went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 60/34. And in the election that just occurred, Democrats won the three-fourths of the electorate that is outside the white Evangelical ranks — including all Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthodox Christians, African-American Christians, mainline Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and the nonreligious — by a 66/32 margin. The extent to which this involves an Evangelical/non-Evangelical split, instead of one (as Evangelical leaders often claim) that is strictly between the religious and the irreligious, can be illustrated by a fascinating exit-poll finding from the Georgia governor’s race. Among Georgia voters who say they attend religious services “monthly or more,” Kemp led Abrams by a single point, 50/49. Among those who say they attend religious services less than monthly (or not at all), Abrams led by two points, 50/48.

On electoral Tuesdays more than church-service Sundays, white Evangelicals live in their own world, and Donald Trump and his allies rule it.

More Black Candidates Needed for Dems to Keep Winning

Peter Dreier points out that “The Nine New Democratic Black Congress Members Come From Heavily White Districts” at The American Prospect. As Dreier explains:

The blue wave had some black riders. Every African American Democrat in the House running for re-election in this year’s midterms won his or her race.  In addition, voters sent nine new black members, all Democrats, to Congress. As a result, the number of black House members will grow to an all-time peak of 55, even if, as appears possible, both black Republicans(Utah’s Mia Love and Texas’ Will Hurt) lose their seats.

What’s unusual about the nine new members is that all of them prevailed in predominantly white and mostly suburban districts. Five of the nine are women.

That raises an interesting question for Democrats. Is the route to future electoral success for Democrats running more African American candidates, who are good at building multi-racial coalitions? The trendline suggests that is a good possibility, as Dreier elaborates,

Despite the white racism that President Trump has both fostered and uncovered, it is also clear that a growing number of white Americans will support black candidates. In 1958, when the Gallup poll asked Americans if they would vote for a black person for president, only 38 percent said yes. That number grew to 77 percent in 1978 and 96 percent in 1997. Of course, telling that to a pollster is not the same thing as pulling a voting lever for a black candidate. But evidence indicates that more and more white voters are walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

Dreier spotlights a few races, including Democrats Lucy Mcbath’s upset in GA-6, Lauren Underwood’s win in IL-14 and Antonio Delgado’s victory in NY-19. Dreier also notes the winning Democratic campaign’s of Colin Allred in TX-32, llhan Omar in MN-5, Jahana Hayes in CT-5, Ayanna Presley in MA-7, Joseph Neguse in CO-2 and Steve Horsford in NV-4.

Dreier notes that “These nine victories reflect the political dynamics that helped the Democrats gain a significant majority in the House this year. Three (McBath, Underwood, and Allred) flipped traditionally GOP districts, two (Delgado and Horsford) won in swing districts, and four (Omar, Hayes, Pressley, and Neguse) prevailed in safe Democratic districts.”

Also, look at how well Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum did in Georgia and Florida, respectively. It may be that, if no votes were wrongly suppressed, both of them would be the governors-elect of their states, perhaps by comfortable margins. Both candidates demonstrated exceptional prowess in coalition-building.

Perhaps the pivotal fact behind these nine Democratic victories is that African Americans tend to vote Democratic roughly nine times out of ten in recent congressional elections. Nominating Black candidates will naturally increase African American voter interest in specific races. And, if those Black candidates are skilled at reaching out to voters of other races and building multiracial coalitions, so much the better for Democrats.

Teixeira: Dems Made Midterms Inroads in Rural America

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Et Tu, Rural Areas?

One week on from the November election, it’s become quite clear that the Democrats had an excellent election–better than it initially appeared on election night. But what of rural areas? The conventional wisdom seems to be that Democrats kicked ass in urban and suburban areas while losing ground in rural America.

Just one problem: It’s not true! While Democrats certainly didn’t “win” rural areas, they didn’t lose ground either. In fact, they gained ground. Consider the following.

1. Yair Ghitza of Catalist has showed that Republican candidates at all levels systematically did worse in rural areas than Trump did in 2016.

2. Researchers at the Atlantic found that Democrats gained more ground (relative to 2016) in pro-Trump manufacturing counties and Obama-Trump counties than they did in majority-minority counties. In fact, Democrats flat-out carried the vote in Obama-Trump counties and were basically back to 2012 levels of support in these counties.

3. Daniel Block on the Washington Monthly site notes that:

“On the whole, Democrats performed better in rural areas during these midterms than in 2016, which helped the party win some of its most consequential victories….

Among Wisconsin counties with fewer than 55,000 residents (a larger number for a much bigger state), Evers lost with 43 percent to Walker’s 55.8 percent. But he would have lost the entire election had he performed as poorly as Clinton, who was defeated in these counties 37.8 percent to 56.5 percent. Matching Clinton’s vote share would have cost him 29,537 votes. If even five percent of these lost votes went to Walker, Evers would have been defeated. If Walker had matched Trump’s 2016 Wisconsin rural showing, he would have won reelection by 2,307 votes.”

So progress was made in rural areas in 2018. Democrats should seek to continue that progress in 2020 and avoid the temptation to write these areas off because that’s the other side’s territory. That didn’t work in 2016 and it won’t work in 2020 either.

Political Strategy Notes

An excerpt from E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column “What House Democrats need to do” in the Washington Post: “Expanding health coverage, reforming our democracy, restoring upward mobility with well-paying jobs, curbing gun violence and moving to repair our immigration system. Oh, yes, and protecting our constitutional republic from President Trump while rooting out corruption…This should be the agenda of Democrats in the House of Representatives. Already, some pundits are warning that the new majority will “overreach.” But overreach is not the problem for a party that controls only one chamber of Congress…The bigger threat is underachievement. Democrats will squander their victory — their largest gain in House seats since 1974 — if they fail to use their power to show what the alternative to Trumpism looks like…Democrats are also being counseled against becoming the all-investigations-all-the-time party…Committee chairmen should carefully time the inquiries so that scandals don’t push each other aside and thereby fail to penetrate the public consciousness.” The rest of the column merits a thoughtful read by all Democrats.

So how does an African American woman advocate of gun control, Medicaid expansion and other liberal causes get elected in a deep south suburban congressional district that is more than two-thirds white? Daniel Marans and Sarah Ruiz-Grossman explore some answers in their article, “How Lucy McBath Won The Same Georgia District That Jon Ossoff Lost” at HuffPo. Among their observations: “Ossoff’s defeat was not a total loss for area Democrats. His candidacy prompted the creation of a sophisticated Democratic voter turnout operation driven by a base of enthusiastic volunteers that did not go away…The infrastructure was there for McBath, a 58-year-old African-American woman and former Delta Airlines flight attendant, to take advantage of a year later.“…She ran on a platform of tougher gun safety regulations, affordable health care, ensuring women’s reproductive rights and preserving middle-class tax cuts…McBath could point to an ongoing, deep presence in the community. McBath had a compelling personal story…She was first thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 when her teen son, Jordan Davis, was shot dead by a white man at a Florida gas station angry about the volume of the music Davis was playing in his car. Her tragic loss spurred her into activism, as a spokesperson for gun safety group Moms Demand Action, and now into political office…McBath is also a two-time survivor of breast cancer. She invoked her experience when making the case for defending the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions…Notwithstanding Georgia’s pro-gun conservatism, the proliferation of mass shootings has nudged many suburban women with conservative fiscal tendencies to embrace stricter gun laws.” McBath, the daughter of Lucien Holman, a former president of the NAACP’s Illinois state chapter, put together an exceptionally diverse and energetic campaign, more like a social change movement than the average election team.

For a revealing look at the activist army that powered the progressive victories of the 2018 midterm elections, read Micah L. Sifry’s “The Outsider Democrats Who Built the Blue Wave: Grassroots activists have organized a movement stronger than Obama’s, and the midterm elections were just the beginning” at The New Republic. Sifry decribes the ‘wave’ of volunteers, who knocked on 115,000 doors to help first-time Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado secure an upset win against Republican incumbent in NY-19 and adds, “The wave crested in formerly Republican-leaning House districts all over the country, lifting first-time candidates like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma, and ultimately delivering the House to Democrats for the first time since 2010…There will be many explanations for these victories, but the sheer size of the volunteerism was clearly a deciding factor. The mobilization was not merely unprecedented for a midterm; it reached levels typically seen only in a presidential year. More important, activists developed new and different approaches to mobilizing the volunteers who were phone banking and knocking on doors this fall…liberal organizing has now spread out to dozens of independent national groups and thousands of local ones, most of them completely new and not directly connected to the party.”

Sifry notes that the Obama campaign’s higly-effective Organizing for America was absorbed into the DNC, which Safry calls “a choice that sapped grassroots energy” and “contributed to its losing 968 state legislative seats over the next eight years” and the 2016 disaster. However, “Into that vacuum came a new cohort of activists. To begin with, older women and younger but more experienced Democratic campaign staffers launched Indivisible. From a Google Doc started by a group of young congressional aides, it spawned 6,000 local chapters (at least two in everycongressional district). The Women’s March prompted the launch of thousands of local huddles. And soon, a long list of new groups emerged to direct campaign knowledge, data, and resources wherever they were most needed…The most notable aspect of Democratic midterm organizing in 2018 was that it operated without any central command. It was more like a swarm than an army, surging to places that traditional Democratic consultants never bothered to go.” Sifry also notes the role of grass-roots fund-raising groups, including ActBlue, Data for Progress and the Movement Voter Project, which multiplied contributions to progressive candidates over previous levels. He cites the work of Mobilize America and the Action Network, which helped produce 2 million pro-Democratic volunteers over the last 18 months of the midterm campaign. Sifry concludess that “That most of these new groups stand outside the main party structures is significant. No politician or campaign operative can control or dismantle them.” With maintenance and care, these groups can thrive and “That can only bode well for 2020.”

In his article, “Tuesday Showed the Drawbacks of Trump’s Electoral Bargain: Important segments of his coalition stood by him, but Democrats made inroads with urban and suburban white voters uncomfortable with his style and values” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein notes that “the defining trend of the night—as throughout the Trump presidency—was the substantial gap between white voters with and without a four-year college education. That gap helps explain both the Democratic suburban gains in the House and the strong GOP performance in the Senate…In both the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections under Obama, House Democrats won only about one-third of non-college whites and about two-fifths of whites with a college degree. In 2010, Democrats ran six points better among college whites than non-college whites; in 2014, the gap was seven points. But in 2016, with Trump on the ballot, the gap roughly doubled to 13 percentage points, as House Republicans improved further with non-college whites and lost ground among college-educated whites…”

Brownstein continues, “On Tuesday, the gap between the two groups expanded further. Democrats carried only 37 percent of white voters without a college education (compared with 61 percent for Republicans). But Democrats won a 53 percent majority of college-educated white voters (compared with 45 percent for Republicans). Tuesday’s Democratic performance among white voters without a college degree improved just slightly from their weak showings in the 2010 and 2014midterms, when they carried only about one-third of them each time. But their showing with college-educated whites on Tuesday represented a big improvement from those two previous midterms, when they carried about two-fifths of them in each election, according to exit polls. This week, Democrats not only carried 59 percent of college-educated white women, an unprecedented number, but reached 47 percent among college-educated white men; they hadn’t reached even 40 percent among those men nationally in any House election since 2008.

Regarding the Texas, Georgia and Florida elections, Brownstein writes, “Conversely, the Democratic performance among college-educated whites in the South—who tend toward more conservative positions than their counterparts elsewhere, particularly on social issues—continued to lag. O’Rourke did capture just over two in five college-educated whites, which was a notable improvement over earlier Democrats in Texas (who have often struggled to win more than 30 percent of those voters), but it wasn’t enough to overcome Cruz’s distinct advantage among non-college whites, who gave him about three-fourths of their votes, according to the exit poll. Abrams, even more strikingly, lost over four-fifths of whites without a college degree, while attracting just a little over one-third of those with one. That was also better than Georgia Democrats had done in the past, but—pending the final ballot counting—not enough to win. The key to Gillum’s loss, a big letdown for Democrats, may have been his inability to win more than about one-third of college-educated white men (even as he won nearly three-fifths of white women with a college degree).

Liz Mair writes In her Daily Beast article, “Don’t Look Now, but the Mountain West Is Turning Blue,” that “Republicans have a problem…on Tuesday they got hammered in the Mountain West…It’s the continuation of a trend that’s been going on for more than a decade…In the next Congress, Arizona will have more Democratic representatives than Republican ones…President Trump flying into Montana to whip up his base didn’t work; Democratic Sen. Jon Tester hung onto his Senate seat (Montana still has a Democratic governor, too, by the way)…Democrats again won the Colorado gubernatorial race (they’ve now had three governorships back-to-back-to-back). Republican Rep. Mike Coffman lost his race so Colorado, too, will have more Democratic congressmen than Republicans as of January 2019…In Nevada, voters will in January have a Democratic governor for the first time in 20 years, and two Democratic senators to boot. Nevada also elected a Democratic Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Three out of four of the state’s congressmen next year will be Democrats…New Mexico’s governorship moved back into Democratic hands…In the next Congress, New Mexico will have an entirely Democratic congressional delegation…In Utah, it looks like the Democrat won in the 4th district.”

“There will be at least 42 Latinos in Congress next year, a record,” notes James Hohman at The Daily 202, and “exit polling showed that 11 percent of the electorate nationally this year was Latino — the same percentage as African Americans. That was up from 8 percent in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 midterms…“About 64 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic congressional candidates and 33 percent voted for Republicans.”…Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a political scientist at University of California at Berkeley, estimates that there was a nearly 120 percent increase in absentee and early ballots cast by Latinos in 2018 compared with 2014, based on her analysis of data from the research firm Catalist. Of those, 76 percent came from “strong” Democrats: “In Texas, Latinos requested 365 percent more early and absentee ballots than in 2014,” Bedolla writes. “Florida saw a 129 percent increase. In contrast, in California — which this year had a handful of highly competitive congressional races but no competitive statewide races — early and absentee ballots requested by Latinos still were up almost 50 percent over 2014.”

The Evolution of Southern Democrats Accelerates

After listening to some of the post-midterm back and forth, I occurred to me that not enough attention was being paid to a new twist in a saga I had been following closely for thirty years: the evolution of southern Democrats. So I wrote about it at New York:

On one level, the Democratic Party in the South emerged from the midterm elections of 2018 looking as supine as it generally has in recent years. Democrats lost (unless late ballots overturn the apparent defeat of Bill Nelson) one of their 4 senators in the 11 states of the former Confederacy. They were 0-for-7 in governor’s races (with the same proviso about late ballots in Florida, and possibly in Georgia). They still do not control a single state legislative chamber in the region.

But in scattered U.S. House races, and in certain surprisingly viable statewide candidacies as well, you can see a Democratic revival in the South, and one that is likely more durable in its reliance on ascending rather than declining demographic configurations. Just as importantly, these southern Democrats are for the most part unapologetically left of center, and sometimes outspokenly progressive, and are thus an active element of a national party for the first time since the New Deal. Until very recently, the Democratic constituency of the South was an uneasy coalition of disgruntled, conservative white voters perpetually on the brink of defection, and loyal black voters who felt unappreciated and underrepresented. At different paces in different states, but all throughout the region, a new suburban-minority coalition is emerging. It may never achieve majority status in areas that are too white or too rural to sustain it. But it is showing great promise in enough states to make the South’s political future an open question for the first time in this millennium.

Nearly successful statewide candidates in the South for the most part represented just as much of a new wave. Obviously, Florida and Georgia gubernatorial nominees Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams were unlike their Democratic predecessors in almost every respect, most obviously in their race (they were the first African-American gubernatorial nominees in the South since Doug Wilder’s breakthrough candidacy in 1989). Gillum ran as a Bernie-Sanders-style progressive who supported single-payer health care. Abrams was a bit less ideological, but did campaign on her record as the state’s preeminent advocate and organizer for minority voters, and was clearly the most progressive Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia history. Yet Gillum won the highest percentage of the vote of any Democratic candidate for governor of Florida since 1994, and Abrams outstripped any Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia since 1998.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Beto O’Rourke’s emphatically progressive Senate campaign won the highest percentage for any Democratic gubernatorial or Senate candidate since 1990.

After this year’s developments, Georgia or Florida or Texas Democrats are very unlikely to return to the old blue dog formula of running white statewide candidates who cling to the center or center-right on issues while expecting minority voters to play along in order to keep Republicans out of office. Even in states like Alabama and Mississippi, which do not have a plethora of wealthy suburbs with relatively liberal white voters to form coalitions with minority voters, change is in the air. Doug Jones, who won his improbable 2017 Senate race on the wings of supercharged African-American turnout, is well to the left of prior statewide Democratic candidates in Alabama. And African-American former congressman Mike Espy will face appointed Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith in a November 27 special election runoff that could provide another test of newfound Democratic strength.

At the substate level, Democratic wins and near-wins in urban-suburban House races will likely become a regular occurrence in the South — as will candidate platforms and messages similar to those of Democrats in the rest of the country. Georgia’s Lucy McBath, who ousted Republican veteran Karen Handel in the same north Atlanta suburban district where Jon Ossoff fell just-short in 2017, is an African-American best known as a national advocate for gun control. That kind of candidacy succeeding, in Newt Gingrich’s old district no less, would have been unimaginable in Georgia until, well, now. Nine of the 13 members of Virginia’s congressional delegation next year will be Democrats, and the most conservative of them could well be Senator Mark Warner.

The transformation of the southern Democratic Party won’t be entirely uniform. In a state like Tennessee, with its relatively low minority population and sizable rural areas, there isn’t much potential statewide for the kind of suburban-minority coalitions we’re seeing elsewhere. It’s not surprising that Democrats there turned to their last statewide office-holder, former governor Phil Bredesen, as a Senate candidate this year – nor that Bredesen ultimately fell short despite all but denying his affiliation with his national party.

There is more than demographics, however, behind the new wave of southern Democrats. Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has reinforced its most atavistic tendencies, which in the South, as elsewhere, are inhibiting the GOP’s ability to become a stable governing party. Georgia is a state long accustomed to subtly race-tinged conservative politics. But this year’s gubernatorial campaign from Republican Brian Kemp was a throwback to a rawer right-wing era, with his attacks on “outside agitators,”his proud boasts of being “politically incorrect,” and his blatant defiance of voting rights as the state’s chief election officer. Even if southern Democrats move markedly to the left, the region’s Republicans are poorly positioned to move anywhere close to the center.

The 2020 presidential election could provide a very good test of the South’s political future. In much of the recent past, the largely Republican makeup of voters in presidential elections made presidential election years especially difficult for southern Democrats. With both parties beginning to more closely resemble their national leaderships at large, that’s not so much the case anymore. As recently as 2000 and 2004, Republicans won every single electoral vote from the former Confederate states. Virginia has now voted Democratic in three straight presidential elections. Florida went Democratic in 2008 and 2012, and North Carolina was carried by Obama once, in 2008. Virginia should now be considered a reasonably solid blue state; Florida and North Carolina are purple; and Georgia and Texas are most definitely trending in that direction. It’s not at all unimaginable that all these states could go Democratic in 2020 if it’s a good year for Democrats nationally.

At both the presidential level and down-ballot, the days of southern Democrats writing off statewide races and urban-suburban House races is probably over, and with it, the habit of running candidates who spent half their time distancing themselves from their party and its big-ticket causes and constituencies. The fundraising magic of Beto O’Rourke and the get-out-the-vote drives of Stacey Abrams have made their mark, and will be replicated. The South may never be a reliably Democratic region again. But change is not only coming — it’s happening now.


Halpin and Teixeira: Analysis of Who Voted and What It Means for the Future of Democratic Strategy

The following article by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, senior fellows at the Center for American Progress, is cross-posted from americanprogress.org:

Americans took to the polls in record numbers in the 2018 midterms, shifting party control of the House of Representatives and sending a clear message of disapproval to President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. Although the president and his party gained ground in the U.S. Senate, primarily in states Trump won handily, they failed to capitalize on the low unemployment rate or overall positive sentiments about the economy. The signature GOP legislative achievement of the first two years—the $1.5 trillion tax cut that passed last year —failed to boost Republicans’ chances overall and hurt candidates in several seats.

Subsequently, they lost in major suburban and urban districts across the country and also lost ground in some rural areas. The president’s gamble of nationalizing the election around his personality and his administration’s harsh immigration policies ultimately cost Republicans their House majority and failed to persuade voters outside of already conservative or rural counties and states to stick with the GOP. Likewise, health care dominated voters’ minds this year according to both pre-election and Election Day polls, with Democrats benefitting from their commitment to protect and expand Americans’ health care and House Republicans suffering for their repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Democrats are on pace for around a 34-seat gain in the House (outstanding races are still to be called in a few places), with a record number of women candidates winning overall. This is slightly above historical average gains for opposition parties in midterm elections but below the massive 2010 shift of 63 seats during the Obama presidency. Democrats gained seven governors’ seats, including in important presidential battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin and flipped six state legislative bodies, with about 330 state legislative seats gained across the country. Ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid won in three red states, while several measures to increase the minimum wage, legalize marijuana, and expand voting rights also emerged victorious. And, although definitive turnout data will not be available for a while, preliminary estimates suggest a massive increase in voter participation, with likely more than 110 million votes cast for the House—far above 2014 levels.

Midterm elections typically unfold on fleeting political terms and local issues that cannot be applied easily to future elections. But, given the highly polarized nature of U.S. politics under President Trump and the partisan divisions in control of the House and Senate and in key states, a few trends should be noted. The first two favor Democrats going into 2020, and the second two favor Republicans.

  • First, President Trump has not expanded his support in any significant manner and his policy agenda has dragged down his popularity, particularly with independents. The president’s disapproval ratings have been higher than his approval ratings for his entire tenure. Strong disapproval of Trump has hovered around 40 percent for the past two years, with less than one-quarter of voters strongly approving of his presidency. This is unlikely to shift, particularly since the president could not improve his numbers even with strong economic indicators. President Trump’s signature policy achievement, the 2017 tax bill, failed to produce gains, and in fact served as a liability for some Republicans, as most Americans concluded that it did little to help them while primarily benefitting corporations and the wealthy. Likewise, Trump’s immigration agenda remains potent among his base supporters, but it is not moving the needle his way in large swaths of suburban and urban America. The repeated attempt to undermine national health care policy remains a significant drag on his support among independents and moderates across the nation. Unless the president changes course toward a more popular national agenda, it is unclear how he plans to both secure and expand his 2016 vote base. Exit polls indicate that Republicans lost significant ground with independents in 2018, relative to Trump’s decent showing among them in 2016.
  • Second, Trump’s standing in the Electoral College is uncertain. Outside of Florida and Ohio, where Republicans appear to have held off an opposition surge this year, Democrats made substantial statewide gains in key states in the 2018 midterms, controlling the governorships of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and picking up Obama-Trump districts in the state of Iowa. Trump’s hold on the Electoral College, which was weak in 2016 with only a narrow victory of around 80,000 votes in three states, is therefore tenuous—at best. Democrats only need to add Pennsylvania and Michigan back to their column plus either Wisconsin or Iowa to win in 2020. This assumes Florida and Ohio remain for Trump and no changes occur in emerging battlegrounds such as North Carolina, Arizona, or Georgia, neither of which are given.
  • Third, Democrats have demographic and geographic challenges in relation to both the Senate and some key Electoral College states. Despite advantages that emerged in the 2018 midterms and overall favorable demographic trends, the Democratic Party base of support is still shaky in terms of potential turnout and support rates going into 2020, relative to the geographic structure of the Electoral College and the Senate. Youth turnout and turnout from voters of color looks very strong for 2018, but even minor dips in key Electoral College states can shift the terrain toward Trump. Likewise, the concentration of Democratic support in metropolitan areas diffuses overall demographic advantages and increases the chances that large turnout and support from Trump’s base, primarily white noncollege-educated voters in more rural and working class states, can once again lead to a narrow victory.
  • Fourth, Democrats need to develop a strong and popular vision to counter Trump’s nationalist message. Despite Trump’s manifest political deficiencies, he does benefit from very strong support and fervent backing from most Republicans. In contrast, the Democrats successful, mostly nonideological “big tent” strategy for 2018 will not hold for 2020. In order to ensure strong Democratic base turnout, encourage new voters, and persuade Obama-Trump and more white noncollege voters to return to the party, Democrats will need a very clear and compelling vision that convinces voters that they are on their side on economics and social policy and are willing to make significant changes to a political system that is viewed as corrupt and often unresponsive to voter needs.

With this overall context, here is a concise overview of what we know so far about who voted and how they voted in 2018 and what it may mean going forward.

Who voted in 2018?

Perhaps the shortest answer to this question is “everyone.” This was an exceptionally high turnout for a midterm election. It would therefore be surprising if the turnout of most demographic groups did not go up. However, that does not mean that the share of voters attributable to these various groups necessarily went up. That would only be true if turnout of a given group went up more than the average among eligible voters and/or if the eligible voter share of a given group went up.

With that in mind, some patterns can provisionally be seen in the results currently available. We emphasize provisional since the exit polls are typically an unreliable guide to turnout patterns and need to be supplemented with other survey data and modeling that integrates actual election returns. Those supplementary resources are not yet available.

The National Election Pool (NEP) exit polls, compiled by Edison Research for a consortium of news organizations, indicate that the share of white voters fell from 75 percent in 2014 to 72 percent this election. Note that this does not necessarily tell us much about the turnout of white voters, since some of this declining vote share (if real) was attributable to the declining white share of eligible voters.

The same could be said about the rising share of nonwhite (black, Hispanic, Asian, and other race) voters, which increased from 25 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in the 2018 NEP exit polls. Some of this increased vote share, if real, was due to the increasing nonwhite share of eligible voters, rather than unusually high nonwhite turnout.

Within the broad group of nonwhite voters, these exit polls indicate that Hispanic vote share went up from 8 percent in 2014 to 11 percent in 2018, while black vote share declined slightly from 12 to 11 percent over the same time period. (The AP-NORC VoteCast voter survey, which is new and has a different methodology than the NEP exit polls, reports the Hispanic share as 9 percent and the black share at 12 percent; since the survey is new, there are no comparisons available to 2014.)

Within the overall group of white voters, it has become important to look at education divisions. However, while it seems likely that both white college graduate and white noncollege voters increased their turnout levels this election, it is impossible to say how much their vote shares really changed. Because the NEP exit polls changed their methodology around education, they now show a much more realistic distribution of voters between white college and white noncollege: 31 percent white college and 41 percent white noncollege. But this methodology change invalidates any comparison to their previous exit poll voter shares among this demographic.

Voter share among 18- to 29-year-olds remained stable at 13 percent between the 2014 and 2018 elections, according to these exit polls. This implies that young voter turnout did indeed go up in this election but by no more than the average turnout increase.

How did they vote?

The most interesting changes in this election, in comparison to 2014, took place in the realm of voter preference. As we might expect, there were big shifts toward the Democrats among many voter groups, given that the overall House popular vote shifted from +6 Republican in 2014 to the current estimate of +7 for the Democrats this election.

Notably, women went heavily for Democrats, with a +19 margin in the NEP exit polls, while Republicans had a +4 margin among men. Comparable figures for 2014 were +4 for Democrats among women and +16 for Republicans among men. The gender gap is alive and well.

Turning to the white vote, these exit polls indicate that Democrats lost the white congressional vote by 10 points this election, a substantial improvement over their 22-point loss in 2014. Among nonwhites, Democrats improved their margin among Hispanics from +26 to +40 across the two elections, from +79 to +81 among blacks overall (with black women at +85 in 2018), and from a mere +1 among Asians to +54 this election. Again, we await further data to evaluate these changes, but this is the story told by the NEP exit polls.

While possibly affected by changes in methodology, these exit polls indicate a very strong pro-Democratic shift among white college voters, improving from a 16-point deficit in 2014 to an 8-point advantage in this election. Democratic performance also improved among white noncollege voters but only modestly, moving from a 30-point deficit in 2014 to 24 points in 2018. Other data indicate that Democrats did particularly poorly among white noncollege voters in the South.

White college women were particularly good for the Democrats, supporting their candidates by a 20-point margin; white college men gave Republicans a 4-point advantage. White noncollege men were the worst for the Democrats—they lost this group by a whopping 34 points. Democrats did better among white noncollege women, losing them by a comparatively modest 14 points.

Young voters may not have increased their share of voters but, according to the NEP exit polls, they were very pro-Democratic this year, increasing their support for Democratic candidates from +11 in 2014 to +35 this year. Notably, the 18- to 24-year-old group, which now includes a healthy share of post-Millennials—the pro-Democratic Millennials’ successor generation—actually voted more Democratic (+37) than the 25- to 29-year-old group (+33).

What does this mean for 2020?

America remains a deeply divided nation in its politics and partisan preferences. The 2018 midterms clearly did not settle these divisions. If anything, it appears to have solidified them. Republicans under Trump maintain a strong hold on white noncollege voters in more rural and exurban counties and states across the country. However, they are rapidly losing support among college educated whites in many suburban and metropolitan areas and face particular challenges with women and voters of color.

Democrats, on the other hand, have broader but less intense support that can manifest itself in strong majorities with the right leadership, as in 2008 and 2012 under former President Barack Obama, or fall just short when facing intense partisan support from Trump and his base. Democrats lack both intense bases of support and the ability to reach into voting blocs that are deeply upset with the political status quo. These challenges may be amplified by Trump’s geographic advantages in some key Electoral College states, as seen in 2016.

President Trump appears committed to his strategy of base mobilization built on maximizing conflict on cultural and racial grounds. If he wants to succeed in 2020, he will need to broaden his outreach, adopt a more accommodating style, and focus on the economy more or else risk serious blowback across his narrow Electoral College pathway. Democrats, in turn, must quickly solidify an inclusive and forward-looking vision and agenda that offers voters turned off by Trump’s style, corruption, and ethno-nationalism a real reason to vote for their party. They cannot afford to remain in constant locked-horn battle with Trump on his terms and must stay focused on building consensus behind principled and pragmatic progressive policies on jobs, wages, health care, and democratic participation.

Whichever side figures out how to both maximize its partisan advantages and make inroads with voters who do not fit their ideological profile will most likely emerge victorious in 2020.

Were the Midterms Just About Mobilizing Pro-Democratic Groups? Maybe Not, According to the Exit Polls

I was staring at the 2018 and 2014 exit polls yesterday, for signs of a different electorate showing up this year, and was surprised at what I saw, as I explained at New York.

If you heard it once, you probably heard it a hundred times: the 2018 midterm elections, and perhaps all midterm elections, were “all about turnout.” With the electorate polarized down to its every molecule, the winning equation was simply to identify demographic groups that were in or trending towards one’s own side, then nag and scare and excite and anger and knock and drag them to the polls.

If “base mobilization” was in fact all that mattered, then it would be logical to expect that the shape of the 2018 electorate would be dramatically different from that of the 2014 midterms, in which Republicans had a very solid performance, gaining 13 House seats, 9 Senate seats, and 2 governorships.

But a comparison of exit polls, the best preliminary indicator we have of the shape of the 2014 and 2018 electorates, doesn’t show as much change as you might expect. Yes, the 2018 electorate was much bigger than 2014’s: an estimated 114 million people voted this year, as opposed to 83 million four years ago. But the shape of this bigger electorate is familiar, according to the Edison Research exit polls for both midterms.

The white makeup of the electorate was 75 percent in 2014 and 72 percent this year, though the modest difference is mostly attributable to demographic change rather than some sort of voter mobilization effort. African-Americans formed 11 percent of the electorate in 2014 and 12 percent in 2018, another modest change. Latinos are a rapidly rising share of the population, so it’s not too surprising that they grew from 8 percent to 11 percent (they were only 9 percent, by the way, in a separate NORC exit poll).

How about that most notorious category of voter, the non-college educated white voter (a.k.a. the white working-class voter)? Its membership constituted 36 percent of the electorate in 2014 and 41 percent in 2018. That’s not very consistent with a demography-driven Democratic Wave, is it? So is gender turnout a factor? Did women show up in droves to punish Trump and the GOP? Well, yeah, women were up a tick (from 51 percent to 52 percent) as a percentage of the electorate. But white women, supposedly super-mobilized, actually dropped from constituting 38 percent of all voters in 2014 to 37 percent this year.

One difference that might look significant is that the percentage of voters identifying as “white evangelical or born-again Christian” dropped from 26 percent of the electorate to 22 percent. But much of that is simply owing to the general relative decline in the size of the white population, compounded by the erosion of membership that is now hitting conservative Protestant denominations just like their more liberal counterparts. It doesn’t mean Republicans didn’t do as good a job herding the Evangelical flocks to the polls as they have in the past.

So if the electorate isn’t all that different in its component parts than it was four years ago, what did change? It’s hard to say definitively, since it’s always possible that one party or the other did better at turning out their particular share of various demographic groups than the other. But it looks like public opinion changed, with or without partisan efforts to sway it.

The example that jumps off the page in reading the exits is voters over 65. Republicans won them 57-41 in 2014, but only 50-48 in 2018. That’s about the same margin as in 2006, the last Democratic “wave” election, before the tea party movement-driven realignment of the electorate made “old” all but synonymous with “Republican.” White college graduates shifted from 57-41 Republican in 2014 to 53-45 Democratic this year. By contrast, white voters without a college degree changed marginally, from 64-34 Republican to 61-37. White women didn’t trend as massively Democratic in 2018 as some of the anecdotal evidence suggested, but did go from 56-42 Republican to 49-49 this year. The 2014 exits didn’t provide a breakdown by race, gender, and education-level, but given the relatively low change in the vote of non-college educated white voters generally, you can figure this year’s 59-39 Democratic margin among college-educated white women was a pretty big shift.

Yes, the exit polls are quite fallible, as the evidence of the undercounting of white non-college educated voters in the 2016 exit polls shows. But if the change of partisan outcome between 2014 and 2018 was strictly a matter of one mobilization machine outperforming another, it would show up pretty dramatically in the numbers.

It’s not fashionable to say it, but perhaps persuasion by candidates and campaigns had a bit more to do with the Democratic surge in 2018 than we might otherwise suspect. And there’s a good chance that objective reality did, as well: the experience of having Donald Trump as president for two years, with a supine Republican Party doing his bidding. It’s worth pondering as 2020 approaches.