washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

November 29: Republicans Could Sure Use Some Pro-Choicers To Fix Their Midterm Blues

In looking at various analyses of where Republicans lost votes in the 2018 midterm elections, a pattern started to suggest itself, and I wrote about it at New York:

Most 2018 midterm postmortems have identified the same groups of voters as Republican weak spots. Chief among them are college-educated suburban voters, especially women, and millennials, who all stand out because they are swing voters likely to expand their share of the electorate, and because they really, really don’t seem to like the kind of GOP Donald Trump is building.

You know what else they tend to have in common? Progressive views on culture-war issues, which often offset comparatively more conservative views on economic policy, fiscal policy, and the size of the government. There are three notable state-level role models for Republican politics that caters to this combination of voter preferences, as RealClearPolitics’ Adele Malpass notes:

“The oxymoron of the 2018 elections is that three deep-blue states elected Democratic U.S. senators by wide margins while also electing Republican governors. In the so- called ‘People’s Republic of Vermont,’ voters overwhelmingly re-elected both progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican Gov. Phil Scott. It was the same story in reliably liberal Massachusetts where voters bestowed second terms on Elizabeth Warren and Charlie Baker. Ditto in Maryland for Ben Cardin and Larry Hogan. So how did Republican governors win in states where Hillary Clinton had some of her largest margins of victory in 2016?

“The campaign playbook was the same in all three states: stick to local issues while being socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”

But there’s a real problem with taking that approach at the national level. The sine qua non of “social liberalism” is being pro-choice on abortion policy. And in national GOP politics, that’s a position that has all but been read out of existence.

Yes, there remain two pro-choice Republicans in the Senate: Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. But Collins’s pro-choice street cred was severely damaged by her support for Brett Kavanaugh, and Murkowski’s relationship with her own party back home was strained by her “no” vote on that confirmation. And the anti-abortion movement believes the 2018 midterms significantly increased its power in the Senate and in the party, as the New York Times observed:

“Social conservatives said on Wednesday they were elated by the victories in the Senate and in the governors’ races, which they believe provide openings to push their agenda in the judiciary and the states even if a Democratic-led House ties up legislative priorities of President Trump and Washington Republicans.

“’We are so much stronger than we were before,’ said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that led an extensive turnout operation this year in states like North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri, where incumbent Democratic senators were defeated by anti-abortion Republicans. ‘We win when we go back to our roots,’ she added.”

With the Trump administration regarding its hard-core stance on abortion as central to its relationship with white evangelical “base” voters (a relationship policed by Vice-President Pence), the odds of the GOP giving a new breed of suburban political warriors space to maneuver on this issue are virtually nil. The next election, moreover, will be framed in no small part around the ability of Donald Trump to secure a second term in which to consummate a conservative judicial counterrevolution whose most immediate and important goal is the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Polarization over abortion means that Democrats have all but lost their “pro-life” wing as well. But there are significantly more rank-and-file pro-choice Republicans than there are pro-life Democrats. And as Sarah Jones pointed out recently, Democrats don’t really need strongly anti-abortion voters to forge a majority. Republicans do need pro-choice voters, now and in the future, and at the worst possible time, their ability to accommodate that point of view is vanishing in the fires of the culture wars.


Republicans Could Sure Use Some Pro-Choicers To Fix Their Midterm Blues

In looking at various analyses of where Republicans lost votes in the 2018 midterm elections, a pattern started to suggest itself, and I wrote about it at New York:

Most 2018 midterm postmortems have identified the same groups of voters as Republican weak spots. Chief among them are college-educated suburban voters, especially women, and millennials, who all stand out because they are swing voters likely to expand their share of the electorate, and because they really, really don’t seem to like the kind of GOP Donald Trump is building.

You know what else they tend to have in common? Progressive views on culture-war issues, which often offset comparatively more conservative views on economic policy, fiscal policy, and the size of the government. There are three notable state-level role models for Republican politics that caters to this combination of voter preferences, as RealClearPolitics’ Adele Malpass notes:

“The oxymoron of the 2018 elections is that three deep-blue states elected Democratic U.S. senators by wide margins while also electing Republican governors. In the so- called ‘People’s Republic of Vermont,’ voters overwhelmingly re-elected both progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican Gov. Phil Scott. It was the same story in reliably liberal Massachusetts where voters bestowed second terms on Elizabeth Warren and Charlie Baker. Ditto in Maryland for Ben Cardin and Larry Hogan. So how did Republican governors win in states where Hillary Clinton had some of her largest margins of victory in 2016?

“The campaign playbook was the same in all three states: stick to local issues while being socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”

But there’s a real problem with taking that approach at the national level. The sine qua non of “social liberalism” is being pro-choice on abortion policy. And in national GOP politics, that’s a position that has all but been read out of existence.

Yes, there remain two pro-choice Republicans in the Senate: Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. But Collins’s pro-choice street cred was severely damaged by her support for Brett Kavanaugh, and Murkowski’s relationship with her own party back home was strained by her “no” vote on that confirmation. And the anti-abortion movement believes the 2018 midterms significantly increased its power in the Senate and in the party, as the New York Times observed:

“Social conservatives said on Wednesday they were elated by the victories in the Senate and in the governors’ races, which they believe provide openings to push their agenda in the judiciary and the states even if a Democratic-led House ties up legislative priorities of President Trump and Washington Republicans.

“’We are so much stronger than we were before,’ said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that led an extensive turnout operation this year in states like North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri, where incumbent Democratic senators were defeated by anti-abortion Republicans. ‘We win when we go back to our roots,’ she added.”

With the Trump administration regarding its hard-core stance on abortion as central to its relationship with white evangelical “base” voters (a relationship policed by Vice-President Pence), the odds of the GOP giving a new breed of suburban political warriors space to maneuver on this issue are virtually nil. The next election, moreover, will be framed in no small part around the ability of Donald Trump to secure a second term in which to consummate a conservative judicial counterrevolution whose most immediate and important goal is the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Polarization over abortion means that Democrats have all but lost their “pro-life” wing as well. But there are significantly more rank-and-file pro-choice Republicans than there are pro-life Democrats. And as Sarah Jones pointed out recently, Democrats don’t really need strongly anti-abortion voters to forge a majority. Republicans do need pro-choice voters, now and in the future, and at the worst possible time, their ability to accommodate that point of view is vanishing in the fires of the culture wars.

 


November 23: Midterm Polls Were Accurate Enough

One of the great post-election rituals in recent years has been an assessment of the polls we all obsessed over before the first ballot was cast. I wrote about that at New York.

In retrospect, the national polls didn’t do badly at all that year, as Nate Silver explained:

“Trump outperformed his national polls by only 1 to 2 percentage points in losing the popular vote to Clinton, making them slightly closer to the mark than they were in 2012. Meanwhile, he beat his polls by only 2 to 3 percentage points in the average swing state.3 Certainly, there were individual pollsters that had some explaining to do, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump beat his polls by a larger amount. But the result was not some sort of massive outlier; on the contrary, the polls were pretty much as accurate as they’d been, on average, since 1968.”

Still, many Republicans have continued to believe that pollsters are generally part of a media establishment conspiring to undermine their confidence via the “fake news” of cooked data, as their leader has suggested:

“Nonpartisan House polls have historically missed the mark by an average of 5.9 points. This year it was just 4.9 points. Again, that means the average district poll was a full point closer to the result than usual….

“Statewide polling also had a strong year, although it should be noted that Senate and governors’ polling did pick fewer winners than usual. The average poll in the Senate was off by only 4.2 points. The average Senate poll historically has been off by 5.2 points, which means this year’s polls were a point better than average. Likewise, the average governor’s poll had an error rate of 4.4 points. That’s 0.7 point more accurate than the average governor’s poll since 1998.”

The reason for the “pick fewer winners” problem wasn’t so much polling error as the exceptional number of very close races. The gold-standard Cook Political Report rated nine Senate races and 12 gubernatorial races as toss-ups. There were a few races — which happened to be very high-profile contests — where the polls seemed to be off more than a hair, such as the Florida governor’s race, where the RealClearPolitics polling average on election eve showed Andrew Gillum up by nearly four points; it showed a slight lead for Bill Nelson in the same state; both lost by an eyelash. And the polls missed Mike Braun’s solid Senate win in Indiana. But the RCP averages correctly predicted the outcome of many cliff-hangers like the Georgia’s governor’s race and Senate contests in MissouriMontana, and Texas.

Where there were mistakes, they didn’t follow any partisan pattern, as Nate Cohn observed in his review of midterm polling:

“On average, the polls were biased toward Democrats (meaning the Democrats did worse in the elections than polls indicated they would) by 0.4 points, making this year’s polls the least biased since 2006 and nothing like the polls in 2016, which were three points more Democratic than the results.”

And if you get into particular types of races, as Harry Enten did, the partisan “errors” were mixed:

“The average governor and Senate polls were about a point more favorable to the Democrats than the result. The average generic congressional ballot and House district polls were less than a point more favorable to Republicans than the actual result.”

Since sky-high turnout (the highest as a percentage of eligible voters in a midterm in over a century) may have been the biggest surprise of the elections, and the one pollsters would have had the hardest time predicting, the overall accuracy and balance were especially impressive. Certain types of voters, however, still seem to marginally elude pollsters, notes Cohn:

“The higher-than-expected turnout might have inadvertently contributed to a 2016-like pattern, since lower-turnout voters in the big urban states tend to be nonwhite and Democratic, while lower-turnout voters in rural, less educated states tend to be white working-class voters.

“In the Times Upshot/Siena polls, undecided voters tended to follow a similar pattern: In the Sun Belt, the undecided voters tended to be nonwhite Democrats; in the North, they were more likely to be white voters without a degree.”

So unsurprisingly, polls again tended to underestimate Republican votes in states with big white working-class populations and to underestimate Democratic voters in states with large nonwhite populations. And very late trends in undecided voters — which polls always miss to some extent — may have mattered here and there as well.

From a consumer’s point of view (and no one consumes polls quite like a daily political writer like yours truly), the big new development in 2018 was the large battery of House polls conducted by the New York Times in conjunction with Siena College. The combine not only supplied rare data on competitive House races (where a lot of the polling is private), but hit the mark quite often, as Enten notes:

“[The] increase in accuracy [in House races] was driven in large part by the Siena College/New York Times polls, whose surveys made up the bulk of district level polling and had an average absolute error of just about 3 points. That’s nearly 3 points better than average, which is off the charts good.”

If, like me, you believe the answer to questionable data is more, not less, data, the proliferation of polls is a good thing, even if quality continues to vary. And while Republicans may continue to follow Trump’s cynical habit of attacking any information that doesn’t confirm their own biases, you’d hope that at least privately they’d concede that more competition produces a better and more reliable result.

 


Midterm Polls Were Accurate Enough

One of the great post-election rituals in recent years has been an assessment of the polls we all obsessed over before the first ballot was cast. I wrote about that at New York.

In retrospect, the national polls didn’t do badly at all that year, as Nate Silver explained:

“Trump outperformed his national polls by only 1 to 2 percentage points in losing the popular vote to Clinton, making them slightly closer to the mark than they were in 2012. Meanwhile, he beat his polls by only 2 to 3 percentage points in the average swing state.3 Certainly, there were individual pollsters that had some explaining to do, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump beat his polls by a larger amount. But the result was not some sort of massive outlier; on the contrary, the polls were pretty much as accurate as they’d been, on average, since 1968.”

Still, many Republicans have continued to believe that pollsters are generally part of a media establishment conspiring to undermine their confidence via the “fake news” of cooked data, as their leader has suggested:

“Nonpartisan House polls have historically missed the mark by an average of 5.9 points. This year it was just 4.9 points. Again, that means the average district poll was a full point closer to the result than usual….

“Statewide polling also had a strong year, although it should be noted that Senate and governors’ polling did pick fewer winners than usual. The average poll in the Senate was off by only 4.2 points. The average Senate poll historically has been off by 5.2 points, which means this year’s polls were a point better than average. Likewise, the average governor’s poll had an error rate of 4.4 points. That’s 0.7 point more accurate than the average governor’s poll since 1998.”

The reason for the “pick fewer winners” problem wasn’t so much polling error as the exceptional number of very close races. The gold-standard Cook Political Report rated nine Senate races and 12 gubernatorial races as toss-ups. There were a few races — which happened to be very high-profile contests — where the polls seemed to be off more than a hair, such as the Florida governor’s race, where the RealClearPolitics polling average on election eve showed Andrew Gillum up by nearly four points; it showed a slight lead for Bill Nelson in the same state; both lost by an eyelash. And the polls missed Mike Braun’s solid Senate win in Indiana. But the RCP averages correctly predicted the outcome of many cliff-hangers like the Georgia’s governor’s race and Senate contests in MissouriMontana, and Texas.

Where there were mistakes, they didn’t follow any partisan pattern, as Nate Cohn observed in his review of midterm polling:

“On average, the polls were biased toward Democrats (meaning the Democrats did worse in the elections than polls indicated they would) by 0.4 points, making this year’s polls the least biased since 2006 and nothing like the polls in 2016, which were three points more Democratic than the results.”

And if you get into particular types of races, as Harry Enten did, the partisan “errors” were mixed:

“The average governor and Senate polls were about a point more favorable to the Democrats than the result. The average generic congressional ballot and House district polls were less than a point more favorable to Republicans than the actual result.”

Since sky-high turnout (the highest as a percentage of eligible voters in a midterm in over a century) may have been the biggest surprise of the elections, and the one pollsters would have had the hardest time predicting, the overall accuracy and balance were especially impressive. Certain types of voters, however, still seem to marginally elude pollsters, notes Cohn:

“The higher-than-expected turnout might have inadvertently contributed to a 2016-like pattern, since lower-turnout voters in the big urban states tend to be nonwhite and Democratic, while lower-turnout voters in rural, less educated states tend to be white working-class voters.

“In the Times Upshot/Siena polls, undecided voters tended to follow a similar pattern: In the Sun Belt, the undecided voters tended to be nonwhite Democrats; in the North, they were more likely to be white voters without a degree.”

So unsurprisingly, polls again tended to underestimate Republican votes in states with big white working-class populations and to underestimate Democratic voters in states with large nonwhite populations. And very late trends in undecided voters — which polls always miss to some extent — may have mattered here and there as well.

From a consumer’s point of view (and no one consumes polls quite like a daily political writer like yours truly), the big new development in 2018 was the large battery of House polls conducted by the New York Times in conjunction with Siena College. The combine not only supplied rare data on competitive House races (where a lot of the polling is private), but hit the mark quite often, as Enten notes:

“[The] increase in accuracy [in House races] was driven in large part by the Siena College/New York Times polls, whose surveys made up the bulk of district level polling and had an average absolute error of just about 3 points. That’s nearly 3 points better than average, which is off the charts good.”

If, like me, you believe the answer to questionable data is more, not less, data, the proliferation of polls is a good thing, even if quality continues to vary. And while Republicans may continue to follow Trump’s cynical habit of attacking any information that doesn’t confirm their own biases, you’d hope that at least privately they’d concede that more competition produces a better and more reliable result.

 


November 21: No, the Midterms Weren’t a “Split Decision”

As late votes began drifting in and post-midterm spin reached its apex, I took a long look and pushed back a bit at New York on a couple of common interpretations we were hearing:

You’d think that on November 8, 2016, the political world would have learned that early election night impressions can be misleading. But rushes to judgement were common on and immediately after Election Day 2018. Some of them were simply prefab Republican spin reinforced by a selective view of the early returns….

Another factor: There were a lot of uncalled races on election night. That occurred partly because many contests were close, but also because of two crosscutting phenomena that combined to slow the count in many places: Democratic-supported proliferation of last-minute voting opportunities, and Republican-supported restrictions that added to the number of unresolved “provisional” ballots. In the former category, California stood out as a megastate that recently decided to allow mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted later, which meant that over a third of the votes were uncounted on election night.

Nevertheless, the day after the midterms, spin efforts by Republicans intensified, led by the spinner-in-chief:

“President Trump on Wednesday said that Republicans ‘defied history’ in the 2018 midterm elections by maintaining control of the Senate and winning a ‘slew’ of governor’s races — despite losing their majority in the House of Representatives.

“’It was a big day yesterday,’ a somber-sounding Trump said in the East Room of the White House. ‘The Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.’

“’It was very close to a complete victory,’ he declared.”

It helped GOP spinners that their candidates led in the election night returns in a host of unresolved contests, including the Arizona and Florida Senate races and a bunch of House races in New York, New Jersey, Georgia, and, most of all, California.

But nearly two weeks after the fact, we can now make a more balanced assessment of the midterms. The fact that late-counted ballots tended to trend Democratic almost everywhere (even if it wasn’t enough to change the outcome in several key races) made the final map bluer than it looked on election night.

In the Senate, Republicans picked up two net seats by winning Democratic-held seats in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, while losing seats they held in Arizona and Nevada. The fate of a final Republican-held seat will be determined in a November 27 runoff in Mississippi where appointed Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith will face Democrat Mike Espy. But Democrats won 22 of the 34 Senate races decided so far. And while California complicates the Senate popular-vote picture (because its top-two primary system produced a two-Democrat general election for the Senate), by any measure more people voted for Democrats than Republicansin Senate races. FiveThirtyEight calculates that 27 of 33 Democratic candidates (excluding Mississippi and two-Democrats California) over-performed the partisan lean of their states. So it’s a bit strange to treat the Senate shift as a GOP “mandate” on par with what happened in the House.

Speaking of the House, post–Election Day results for the lower chamber have been solidly blue, as Roll Call notes:

“Nine of the last 10 House races that have been called by The Associated Press have flipped to the Democrats after Gil Cisneros defeated Republican Young Kim in California’s 39th District, currently held by retiring GOP Rep. Ed Royce.”

Cisneros’s win completed a Democratic sweep of five California House toss-up races (plus another open Republican seat they were favored to win), including four in the ancient Republican stronghold of Orange County. There’s even a chance that late mail and provisional ballots could tip yet another GOP seat, David Valadao’s in the Central Valley, into the Donkey column.

Democrats have gained at least 37 net House seats, 14 more than they needed to gain control of the chamber; of the four races still unresolved, they lead in one district (New York’s 22nd) and trail in three (Georgia’s Seventh, New York’s 27th, and Utah’s Fourth). A 38-seat shift would represent the fourth largest in midterms in the last half-century (Democrats won 48 seats in 1974, while Republicans won 52 seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010), and seven more than Democrats won the last time they flipped control of the House, in 2006. When it’s all said and done Democrats will probably have won the national House popular vote by a bit more than 7 points; Republicans won it by just under one percent in 2016, and by a little under 6 percent in 2014.

Democrats also climbed out of a very deep hole they had dug for themselves in state elections. They picked up seven net governorships out of 36 on the ballot, giving them 23, even though they lost close, winnable races in Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Ohio. They also won control of seven state legislative chambers, and made some progress toward busting up Republican “trifecta” control of state governments (they’ll have another chance in 2020):

“Entering the 2018 midterm election, Republicans had a +14 state trifecta lead: of 34 states with trifectas, 26 were Republican and eight were Democratic. But after the votes were counted, Democrats increased their trifecta total with a net gain of six, and Republicans declined to 23 trifectas (a net loss of three). States with divided government (i.e., no trifecta for either major party) declined to 13.”

Far under the radar screen, Democrats flipped four state attorney general offices, and two secretaries of State.

All in all, it’s impossible to call this midterm anything other than a solid Democratic win, once you contextualize what happened in the Senate and don’t get too hung up on expectations or should-woulda-coulda contests. Facing a highly polarized electorate and structural GOP advantages in both the House (gerrymandering and more efficient GOP voter distribution) and the Senate (the aforementioned crazy landscape), Democrats did well across the board, and without the usual midterm qualifier of low turnout (2018 produced the highest midterm turnout since 1914). There is a decidedly less one-sided atmosphere in Washington and in many states, and Democrats are well positioned for an even more fateful election two years from now.


No, the Midterms Weren’t a “Split Decision”

As late votes began drifting in and post-midterm spin reached its apex, I took a long look and pushed back a bit at New York on a couple of common interpretations we were hearing:

You’d think that on November 8, 2016, the political world would have learned that early election night impressions can be misleading. But rushes to judgement were common on and immediately after Election Day 2018. Some of them were simply prefab Republican spin reinforced by a selective view of the early returns….

Another factor: There were a lot of uncalled races on election night. That occurred partly because many contests were close, but also because of two crosscutting phenomena that combined to slow the count in many places: Democratic-supported proliferation of last-minute voting opportunities, and Republican-supported restrictions that added to the number of unresolved “provisional” ballots. In the former category, California stood out as a megastate that recently decided to allow mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted later, which meant that over a third of the votes were uncounted on election night.

Nevertheless, the day after the midterms, spin efforts by Republicans intensified, led by the spinner-in-chief:

“President Trump on Wednesday said that Republicans ‘defied history’ in the 2018 midterm elections by maintaining control of the Senate and winning a ‘slew’ of governor’s races — despite losing their majority in the House of Representatives.

“’It was a big day yesterday,’ a somber-sounding Trump said in the East Room of the White House. ‘The Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.’

“’It was very close to a complete victory,’ he declared.”

It helped GOP spinners that their candidates led in the election night returns in a host of unresolved contests, including the Arizona and Florida Senate races and a bunch of House races in New York, New Jersey, Georgia, and, most of all, California.

But nearly two weeks after the fact, we can now make a more balanced assessment of the midterms. The fact that late-counted ballots tended to trend Democratic almost everywhere (even if it wasn’t enough to change the outcome in several key races) made the final map bluer than it looked on election night.

In the Senate, Republicans picked up two net seats by winning Democratic-held seats in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, while losing seats they held in Arizona and Nevada. The fate of a final Republican-held seat will be determined in a November 27 runoff in Mississippi where appointed Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith will face Democrat Mike Espy. But Democrats won 22 of the 34 Senate races decided so far. And while California complicates the Senate popular-vote picture (because its top-two primary system produced a two-Democrat general election for the Senate), by any measure more people voted for Democrats than Republicansin Senate races. FiveThirtyEight calculates that 27 of 33 Democratic candidates (excluding Mississippi and two-Democrats California) over-performed the partisan lean of their states. So it’s a bit strange to treat the Senate shift as a GOP “mandate” on par with what happened in the House.

Speaking of the House, post–Election Day results for the lower chamber have been solidly blue, as Roll Call notes:

“Nine of the last 10 House races that have been called by The Associated Press have flipped to the Democrats after Gil Cisneros defeated Republican Young Kim in California’s 39th District, currently held by retiring GOP Rep. Ed Royce.”

Cisneros’s win completed a Democratic sweep of five California House toss-up races (plus another open Republican seat they were favored to win), including four in the ancient Republican stronghold of Orange County. There’s even a chance that late mail and provisional ballots could tip yet another GOP seat, David Valadao’s in the Central Valley, into the Donkey column.

Democrats have gained at least 37 net House seats, 14 more than they needed to gain control of the chamber; of the four races still unresolved, they lead in one district (New York’s 22nd) and trail in three (Georgia’s Seventh, New York’s 27th, and Utah’s Fourth). A 38-seat shift would represent the fourth largest in midterms in the last half-century (Democrats won 48 seats in 1974, while Republicans won 52 seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010), and seven more than Democrats won the last time they flipped control of the House, in 2006. When it’s all said and done Democrats will probably have won the national House popular vote by a bit more than 7 points; Republicans won it by just under one percent in 2016, and by a little under 6 percent in 2014.

Democrats also climbed out of a very deep hole they had dug for themselves in state elections. They picked up seven net governorships out of 36 on the ballot, giving them 23, even though they lost close, winnable races in Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Ohio. They also won control of seven state legislative chambers, and made some progress toward busting up Republican “trifecta” control of state governments (they’ll have another chance in 2020):

“Entering the 2018 midterm election, Republicans had a +14 state trifecta lead: of 34 states with trifectas, 26 were Republican and eight were Democratic. But after the votes were counted, Democrats increased their trifecta total with a net gain of six, and Republicans declined to 23 trifectas (a net loss of three). States with divided government (i.e., no trifecta for either major party) declined to 13.”

Far under the radar screen, Democrats flipped four state attorney general offices, and two secretaries of State.

All in all, it’s impossible to call this midterm anything other than a solid Democratic win, once you contextualize what happened in the Senate and don’t get too hung up on expectations or should-woulda-coulda contests. Facing a highly polarized electorate and structural GOP advantages in both the House (gerrymandering and more efficient GOP voter distribution) and the Senate (the aforementioned crazy landscape), Democrats did well across the board, and without the usual midterm qualifier of low turnout (2018 produced the highest midterm turnout since 1914). There is a decidedly less one-sided atmosphere in Washington and in many states, and Democrats are well positioned for an even more fateful election two years from now.


November 16: 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.


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.

 


November 14: 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.


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.