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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: The Left Is Winning on Health Care

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

Paul Starr has an excellent article up on The American Prospect website running down how the Democrats are now winning on health care. Starr notes:

“It took a long time, but the Affordable Care Act finally paid off politically for Democrats in the 2018 election. According to exit polls, voters rated health care the top issue, and they trusted Democrats on it more than Republicans….

In 2018, unlike the other elections since the ACA’s passage in 2010, voters had seen what Republicans were actually proposing to do about health insurance….[T]he legislation passed by Republicans in the House and endorsed by Trump would have resulted in millions of people losing coverage and sharply increased costs for others, especially for older people buying insurance in the individual market. Unable to pass that bill in the Senate, Republicans saw the whole repeal-and-replace effort collapse.

Seizing on the Republicans’ failed rollback, Democratic congressional candidates and the groups supporting them highlighted health care more than any other issue. According to an analysis by Wesleyan Media Project, 54.5 percent of all Democratic ads from September 18 to October 15 discussed health care; those ads focused overwhelmingly on protecting people with preexisting conditions and on Republican efforts to undo the progress under the ACA….

Not only do the election results put an end, at least for the next two years, to Republican congressional efforts to undo the ACA; the voters also chose to extend coverage. Five states are now likely to expand Medicaid—three (Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah) where voters passed referenda in favor of expansion, and two (Kansas and Maine) where a shift from a Republican to a Democratic governor removes the last obstacle to expansion.”

Starr advocates that Democrats now move to extending and improving the ACA, particularly in the context of the 2020 election campaign. I agree completely. Starr in particular advocates what he calls “Midlife Medicare”, making Medicare available to those 50-64. I am fine with that though there is a lot to be said for “Medicare for All”, especially in a campaign context. Even if such an approach is difficult to implement all at once, it can serve as both a rallying cry and an identifying principle for various, more specific reforms.

I would broaden Starr’s argument about the ACA and left strategy as follows. Over time, the left has accomplished many things, from building out the social safety net to cleaning up the environment to protecting public health to securing equal rights for women, black people, and gay people. These and many other gains of the left have a very important thing in common: They are “sticky.” That’s a term borrowed from economics that means, simply, they will be hard to reverse. They provide benefits that people do not want to lose — and, what’s more, they shift norms of what is right and wrong.

Social Security and Medicare are great examples of policies that once seemed radical and now are simply a part of life. The Affordable Care Act’s core innovations may turn out that way, as well, despite the controversy that has dogged the program from its inception — and the declared intent of the current administration to eliminate it.

The ACA has provided benefits to millions who don’t want them taken away, and helped to establish the principle that every American has a right to health care, guaranteed by the government. That’s why the Republican attempt to radically downsize the program hit a buzzsaw. To be sure, Republicans will keep trying. But, in the end, they will not be able to “repeal and replace” with a fundamentally less generous program.

Instead, it’s more likely that the ACA, either under that name or another, will get more generous over time. As the late conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted during the initial ACA repeal fight: “A broad national consensus is developing that health care is indeed a right. This is historically new. And it carries immense implications for the future. It suggests that we may be heading inexorably to a government-run, single-payer system.”

Krauthammer was despairing, but the left should be heartened by the observation. Indeed, at this point, Trump and the GOP have been reduced to hoping that if they neglect the ACA, it will collapse on its own — yet that doesn’t seem to be happening The very desperation of this “strategy” is a sign that Krauthammer may have been prescient about where American health care policy is headed.

So it has turned out. Repealing the ACA turned out to be way, way, way harder than Trump and the GOP anticipated and ultimately it failed. This emphasizes a basic characteristic of American public opinion that Trump and the GOP failed to understand and the left would do well to remember.

The dominant ideology in America combines what political scientists Christopher Ellis and James Stimson refer to as “symbolic conservatism” (honoring tradition, distrusting novelty, embracing the conservative label) with “operational liberalism” (wanting government to do more and spend more in a wide variety of areas). In their definitive book, Ideology in America, they characterize symbolic conservatism as:

“…fundamentally different from culturally conservative politics as defined by the religious right. It is respect for basic values: hard work, striving, caution, prudence, family, tradition, God, citizenship and the American flag….[I]t is the mainstream culture….It is woven into the fabric of how ordinary Americans live their lives.”

And on operational liberalism they note:

“Social Security is…no exception. Most Americans like most government programs. Most of the time, on average, we want government to do more and spend more. It is no accident we have created the programs of the welfare state. They were created—and are sustained—by massive public support.”

Thus, there was no insuperable ideological obstacle to the ACA and, indeed, there is no insuperable ideological obstacle to a substantially expanded role for government in health and other areas in the future. Indeed, such an expansion would be fully in accord with Americans’ durable commitment to operational liberalism.

Of course these expanded government programs will not happen all at once. Far from it. Like the programs of the past, they will be phased in gradually over time, in fits and starts, frequently in inefficient and suboptimal forms (like the ACA!). That’s the messy business of politics in a democracy. But happen they will and once enacted they will be hard to get rid of; instead, just as in the past, the programs will be modified, improved and even expanded. The reason is simple: people like programs that make their lives better and are far more likely to respond to program defects by demanding they be fixed than by demanding programs be eliminated.

Just like with the ACA.

Teixeira: Dems Ride High Toward 2020 on Midterm Blue Wave

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

So: How High the Wave?

It really is remarkable how much the story of the 2018 election has changed since election night. If there was any doubt there was a blue wave then, there isn’t now.

1. As shown below in the 538 seat tracker, the Democrats now look like they’re going to net 40 House seats. 40 seats! That’s a lot.

2. The Democrats now have an 8 point lead in the House popular vote according to the tracking spreadsheet kept by David Wasserman of Cook Political Report. That’s greater than the Republican popular vote lead in their big wave election of 2010 (or 1994 for that matter).

3. The Democrats did lose a net of 2 seats in the Senate but they faced a map heavily stacked against them. As Geoffrey Skelley and Julie Wolfe show on 538, Democrats strongly outperfomed the partisan lean of the states with Senate elections, including the 10 states carried by Trump that had Democratic incumbents.

4. Democrats made their greatest seat gains in suburban areas, but the data show that Democrats actually made greater margin gains in rural areas. It is also the case, as shown by Stan Greenberg in the New York Times, that Democrats not only made big gains among white college graduate women but made similar gains among white noncollege women. And they actually made very significant gains among white noncollege men, though of course that was from a very low base of support. None of this means Democrats are about to carry rural areas and the white working class. But it does mean that the margins Trump will need to win in 2020 among his best voter groups are under pressure.

Make no mistake: the blue wave was very high indeed. Democrats should take heart, as they prepare for the all-important 2020 election.

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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!

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.”

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.

Teixeira: Election Eve Forecasts and Assessments: Democratic Prospects Still Look Very Good

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

Democratic supporters are as nervous as a long-tailed cat in room full of rocking chairs! (I’m sure some of you saw the hilarious SNL skit on Democrats’ lack of confidence.) Besides the intrinsic uncertainty of the day before an election, no doubt nerves are fraying due to some prominent media stories suggesting Democratic chances may be slipping.

These stories mostly seem to be based on the idea that a lot of races are still close and, if an unexpected number don’t go the Democrats’ way, it might be a disappointing evening for the party. Well, true enough. But I think the preponderance of evidence still points to a very good night for the Democrats. (FWIW, 538 now has the Democrats’ House-flipping probability at 88 percent.)

Here are three excellent forecasts/assessments that support this view and provide a lot of very useful information.

1. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball released their final 2018 picks. They see Democrats taking the House with an estimated 34 seat pickup (interestingly, this is exactly the average of the quantitative model-based estimates I previously covered). They also see the Democrats doing very well in governors’ races.

House: “Our ratings changes leave 229 seats at least leaning to the Democrats and 206 at least leaning to the Republicans, so we are expecting the Democrats to pick up more than 30 seats (our precise ratings now show Democrats netting 34 seats in the House, 11 more than the 23 they need). We have long cautioned against assuming the House was a done deal for the Democrats, and we don’t think readers should be stunned if things go haywire for Democrats tomorrow night. That said, it may be just as likely — or even more likely — that we’re understating the Democrats in the House. Many of our sources on both sides seemed to think the Democratic tally would be more like +35 to 40 (or potentially even higher) when we checked in with them over the weekend.”

Senate: “Because of the bad map Democrats faced this year, the GOP picking up seats always seemed like a possibility, even a strong possibility. Our final ratings reaffirm this potential; we have 52 Senate seats at least leaning to the Republicans, and 48 at least leaning to the Democrats. If that happened, the GOP would net a seat.

The potential GOP gain would come from places that make sense: We have them favored in three of the five strongly Republican states that have Democratic senators running for reelection: Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. Meanwhile the two Republican-held seats where we now favor Democrats, Arizona and Nevada, are much more competitive states at the presidential level and thus are susceptible to Democratic takeovers in a challenging environment for Republicans.

The reasonable range of outcomes in the Senate still seems fairly wide, with a bigger GOP gain possible, or no gain at all or even a Democratic gain. The Democrats still essentially have no path to the majority without winning one of these three states: North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas, and the Republicans retain what appear to be edges in all three.”

Governors: “Right now, the Republicans hold 33 governorships, the Democrats just 16, and an independent, Bill Walker holds Alaska. Our ratings suggest the Democrats could net 10 governorships, while the GOP could lose nine (we favor Republicans to pick up Alaska, which throws off the net change statistic a little bit). That does not include Georgia, where we are maintaining a unique “Toss-up/Leans Runoff” rating in anticipation of a possible runoff on Dec. 4 if neither major party candidate gets a majority. If the runoff happens, just think about how much money former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) might raise from the Democrats’ hyper-active small donor network. This is something that concerns Republicans if there’s a runoff.

More than half of the Democratic pickups could come in the Midwest. While we think the GOP could claw back one or two of these states — Iowa, Kansas, and Wisconsin are the picks we’re the least confident in – we thought the data and the year’s overall trends pointed to the Democrats in each of these states individually. Besides the national environment, there may just be a fatigue with eight years of conservative GOP rule in places like Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, particularly in a time of conservative governance in Washington. The public is idiosyncratic and often wants what it doesn’t have; the same dynamic helped Trump win many states in the Midwest after eight years of a liberal Democratic president.”

2. Analyst Henry Olsen published his midterm memo on the National Review site. Olsen is one of the most astute handicappers on the conservative side and he does not see a good might ahead for his side. Worth reading in its entirety though YMMV on his encomium to Ronald Reagan at the end.

“Tomorrow the RINOs will take their revenge and Republicans are going to take a beating in the House and the governorships.

Conservatives love animals, but there is one species they have long wanted to make extinct: the RINO. Not the horned African rhino, mind you, but rather the hoity-toity political RINO — Republicans in Name Only. Movement types have long been enraged by RINOs’ cool attitude toward tax cutting and social conservatism and their willingness to cooperate with, and occasionally vote for, Democrats. Hunting RINO officeholders during primary season has been the Club for Growth’s primary mission for years, and together with activist muscle, the group has successfully pushed the party to the right….

Tuesday…is going to be the RINOs’ revenge. Romney-loving RINOs are coming out of their preserves with fire in their hearts and a gleam in their eyes. They are decked out in hunting gear of their own, and their prey is the Trump-backing, change-seeking GOP. They might not be able to win primaries anymore, but in league with their new friends, the Democrats, they are eager to take down some big game of their own. And they will.

The new Democrat–RINO alliance is going to retake the House, sweep the GOP out of governor’s mansions in most purple states, and end the careers of hundreds of suburban state legislators. In the Senate, it will most likely hold Republicans to a one- or two-seat gain despite an incredibly favorable map — and may even win the Democrats a seat. Come Wednesday, the RINOs will mount their trophies on their walls and resolve to continue the hunt until the big game is caught: the orange-plumed woodpecker from Queens.

Senate Breakdown

• 52 Republicans, 48 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats).

• States switching to the Democrats: NV, AZ.

• States switching to the Republicans: ND, MO, IN.

House Breakdown

• 209 Republicans, 226 Democrats. This is a gain of 32 seats for the Democrats; a plausible range is that they will gain 25 to 40. Anywhere in that range, Republicans will lose control of the chamber…..

Governors Breakdown

• 25 Republicans, 25 Democrats. This is a gain of nine governorships for the Democrats.

• States switching to the Democrats: FL, OH, NV, MI, NM, ME, IL, WI, IA.

• State switching to the Republicans (from an independent): AK.”

3. Perry Bacon, Jr. has an very detailed rundown on all the competitive governors’ races on 538. A lot of great data and tables in this article. Again, this analyst sees big gains for the Democrats in governorships.

“The big story about the 36 governors races this year is that Democrats are very likely to win control of several governorships from Republicans — and the GOP may not pick up any from Democrats. Indeed, it’s almost certain that more Americans will have a Democratic governor than a Republican governor in 2019. According to FiveThirtyEight’s “Classic” forecast,1 195 million Americans will have a Democratic governor after the 2018 elections, compared to 134 million with a Republican one. Democrats are forecasted to control 24 states, on average; Republicans to control 26. (Currently, 33 states have Republican governors, 16 states have Democratic governors and one (Alaska) an independent.)

If the election goes as expected, the GOP’s grip on policy at the state level is likely to be severely weakened. According to Ballotpedia, about 48 percent of Americans currently live in states where Republicans have total control of the state government,2 compared to 21 percent where Democrats have full control. (The rest live under divided government at the state level.) If things go according to our governors’ forecast, the Republican number will decline to about 32 percent and the Democratic number will increase to about 26 percent — and that’s not even considering expected gains by Democrats in state legislatures.”

All for now. Next stop: analysis of actual results!

Dionne: A Bold Bet on a Very Good Outcome for Dems

With one notable exception, a cautious tone about today’s midterm outcome pervades political reporting at The New York Times and Washington Post. In his syndicated column “Why Democrats will do well on Election Day,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. takes a more optimistic view:

In House races, a 30-to-35-seat Democratic pickup is reasonable and may not even be the upper limit.

The Dems will grab a bushel of governor’s races, which I grant you is a vague prediction, but it’s intended to convey a very good night. To be more specific, at least three out of the four key blue-collar Trump states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin) will go Democratic. I strongly suspect that Andrew Gillum will win Florida and Stacey Abrams will come in first in Georgia, though I don’t know if she will be able to avoid a runoff.

Noting that “there is a habit this year to bend over backward to assume that Trump has some kind of magic,” Dionne nonetheless sees a hopeful possibility for Democrats even in the Senate outcome: “And while the Senate remains a long shot for the Democrats, their chances of the inside straight they need to take the majority are not as distant as many think…Now why would someone want to go out on a limb like this when there is no need to? I have four reasons”:

…Yes, gerrymandering may hold down Democratic gains and make a lot of races close. But virtually all of the evidence we have from the elections that have been held since Trump’s victory — the special elections and regularly scheduled state and local contests in 2017 — is of a rather hard swing away from the Republicans. Mobilization on the Democratic side has been far greater than among Republicans, and primary turnouts, with only a few exceptions, have favored the Democrats…Democratic campaigns have been blessed with a volunteer force the size of which is unlike anything that has been seen since Barack Obama’s first race in 2008. And strong disapprovers of Trump have consistently outnumbered strong approvers by large margins — 43 percent to 28 percent in the pre-election Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example. This is another sign of intensity on the Democratic side.

Second, I believe Trump’s closing “argument,” focused on the “caravan” and his outlandish (and, to put it mildly, racially tinged) fearmongering, has hurt Republicans in the past week. Yes, it just might help a bit in a couple of Senate races in very pro-Trump states, but I am not even sure of that. What I know is that this is the last thing that will help Republicans among swing voters, moderates and especially women in the House races that are taking place on terrain less friendly to Trump…In the swing districts, moderate voters have been reminded of what they really can’t stand about Trump while liberals have been given another reason, if they needed one, to turn out to vote.

Third, when careful analysts such as Charlie Cook have changed their ratings on races over the past week or so, most of the movement has been in the Democrats’ direction. No, please don’t implicate Charlie in my overall analysis here; I’m using his numbers for my own purposes, and I certainly won’t blame him if I’m wrong. But he wouldn’t be moving those races, if he weren’t seeing something like what I am seeing.

…And the last reason I offer this prediction is personal. I have never believed we are Donald Trump’s country, and I do not believe we ever will be…My analysis of the 2016 exit poll data, based on the voters who disliked both Trump and Clinton, is that about 8 or 9 percent of Trump’s 46 percent was far more anti-Clinton than pro-Trump. So he starts with a base of, at best, 35 percent, and he has done nothing to add to it…Except for a couple of outlier polls, Trump has never enjoyed anything like majority support. I also believe that many of the blue-collar voters who backed Trump in protest did not fully buy into what he said and do not have a lot to show for his presidency. That’s what the swing against his party in the Midwest will be about.

Dionne concludes on a note of even bolder optimism: “I think that there are a lot of African American voters who want to stand up for their rights and enough white voters who want to speak up loudly against racism to give Gillum and Abrams a chance — especially since both of these candidates are (contra Trump) highly qualified and have done a very good job at both mobilization and persuasion…In the end, I am predicting that we will turn our backs on Trumpism because I think that as a people, we really are much better than he thinks we are.”

Teixeira: Why Dems Expect Improved Support from Midwest White Working-Class Voters and Women

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

In the Immortal Words of Jim Morrison, “The Midwest Is the Best”

Well, actually it was “the west is the best”, but I’m sure Mr. Morrison wouldn’t mind this slight alteration. Anyway, evidence continues to accumulate that Democrats will do exceptionally well in the midwest this year. From an excellent Perry Bacon Jr. article on 538:

“During the Obama years, Republicans won total control of the state government in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Then, on Election Day in 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly lost in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states Democrats had won at the presidential level for more than two decades. She was easily defeated in Iowa and Ohio, which had tended to be close.2 Clinton barely won in Minnesota, another state where Democrats are usually strong. Post-election, there was a lot of doom and gloom about the Democratic Party’s prospects in the Midwest, with both nonpartisan analysts and even some party strategists suggesting the party needed a dramatic overhaul or risk losing in this region, which will be packed with white, working-class voters, for the foreseeable future.

Never mind all that now. Democrats are looking strong in the Midwest — it is by some measures the region where they are likely to make their biggest gains this November.”

Why the comeback? Bacon lists several reasons but surely this is one of them most important and one to which Democrats should be paying close attention:

“[N[ational polls suggest that white voters without college degrees favor Republicans in 2018, but the margin between the two parties is likely to narrow compared to 2016, when Clinton lost that bloc by more than 30 percentage points. That shift has outsized influence in the Midwest, which has higher populations of white voters without college degrees than many other parts of the country. So the Democrats’ problem with white working-class voters may not be as severe as it looked on Election Day 2016 — which perhaps had more to do with the conditions in that election than the party overall. What we are seeing in 2018 suggests that working-class whites are not a single national bloc, but still vote much differently by state and region. Working-class whites in Southern states like Georgia and Texas are overwhelmingly opposed to Democratic candidates in key races this year, but they are less GOP-leaning in Midwest states like Ohio and Wisconsin.”

Also, women voters are likely to play a huge role in Democratic breakthroughs, if they come. Jim Grossfeld has an excellent, detailed article up on The American Prospect site about women candidates and voters in Michigan. It is indeed a heartening tale.

“[W]omen make up two-thirds of the Democratic challengers in races for the Republican dominated Michigan House, where Republicans currently outnumber Democrats 110 to 63, and women hold only 33 seats. Women also won just under half of the Democratic nominations for the state Senate, where Republicans now hold a 27-to-11 super-majority. There, men outnumber women by a staggering 34 to four. More than half of the Democrats running for Michigan’s U.S. House seats are women, too.

And at the top of the ticket, the Democratic nominees for the four principal statewide offices are all women: Gretchen Whitmer for governor, Dana Nessel for attorney general, Jocelyn Benson for secretary of state, and incumbent U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.”