Last Night Was a Blue Wave
The election results from last night represent a blue wave by any metric. The final House popular vote will be a Democrat advantage of greater than 9%. For reference, in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, Republicans had an advantage of 7.1%; in the Republican waves of 2010 and 2014, they had advantages of 7.2% and 5.7%, respectively. Democrats picked up 27 seats and are leading in eight more that have not yet been called yet, despite the fact that Republicans have heavily gerrymandered congressional districts in their states to ensure a GOP majority. Democrats had a diverse slate of candidates that performed well, including LGBT candidates, Muslim candidates, Native American candidates, and a record number of women.
Republicans will counter that we should not be talking about a House popular vote; this is the wrong approach. By doing this, they are conveniently forgetting the fact that a majority of voters voted against Donald Trump in 2016 and a majority of voters voted against Republicans in 2018. Democrats made major inroads in traditionally suburban Republican areas, including in some traditionally red states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Exit polls indicate that Democrats dominated among young voters and non-white voters, groups which will only continue to grow in size and influence in future elections.
The Senate Stays in Republican Hands
The Senate map this cycle was the worst one that Democrats could have competed on. Democrats were forced to defend 25 seats, including 10 in states that Trump won in 2016, while Republicans had to defend only eight. Republicans so far have a net gain of two seats, which could potentially go up to three if Rick Scott continues to hold onto his lead in the close Florida race. While Republicans are celebrating these wins as evidence that there was no blue wave, they should be cautious not to become overconfident. Three of their wins took place in North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana, states that went heavily for Trump and are not expected to be contested in 2020. Democrats in Missouri and Indiana were saved in 2012 by facing off against extreme Republican candidates who made embarrassing gaffes on the issue of abortion; this time, Republicans nominated typical, competent candidates. Florida, where Republicans currently hold a narrow lead in the not-yet-called race, is typically close. Meanwhile, Democrats picked up Nevada and came close to beating Republicans in Arizona and Texas, states that have been turning from red to purple for some time and are expected to at least be somewhat contested by Democrats in 2020. These relative Democrat successes are based, in large part, on energized Latino voters. The results in Nevada, Arizona, and Texas present a cautionary tale for Republicans: while incendiary rhetoric against immigrants may have played well in white, conservative states, they will turn off voters elsewhere.
A Nation Divided
Last night’s results provide evidence that America is more divided than ever. Democrats dominated in urban areas, while Republicans dominated in rural areas. Democrats dominated among younger, non-white, and college-educated voters, while Republicans dominated among older, while, non-college-educated voters. Gun owners went heavily for Republicans, while non-gun-owners went heavily for Democrats. Evangelicals and those who attend religious services weekly or more went heavily for Republicans, non-evangelicals and those who attend religious services less went heavily for the Democrats. The way these groups voted is not surprising, but the margins by which they overwhelmingly voted for one party or another are indicative of a nation that is more divided than ever. Senate races that were thought to be competitive ended up breaking heavily towards the candidate who fit the partisan lean of their state. Only five out of 13 Senate races thought to be competitive were decided by less than five percentage points at the time of this writing. The other races all broke for the candidate of the same party that the state voted for president in 2016. If both parties take any lesson out of this election, it should be that they must both do a better job engaging potential swing voters and nominating candidates that can engage across party lines. If they nominate generic Democratic or Republican candidates, at least on a federal level, they can expect their races to simply go the way of their state’s partisan lean.
Governor Races Give Hope to Both Parties
Voters seemed more willing to cross party lines in governor races, indicating that while political party played a major role in federal elections, they were more willing to switch sides for a candidate on the state level. Democrats flipped seven seats, most notably in red Kansas, and defeated incumbent governors in Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as won in Pennsylvania and Michigan, which voted for Trump in 2016 but are traditionally thought to be blue-leaning. Republicans were able to easily hold onto their governorships in blue states like Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont; they also held onto governorships in Ohio and Florida, traditional swing states that both voted for Trump in 2016. Voters were able to separate their vote on the federal level, where Trump was a factor, from their vote on the state level.
Where we go from Here
Democrats performed well in large part because independent voters went heavily for them. When political parties perform well, they have the tendency to become more ideologically extreme; Democrats cannot do this. Just because independents broke for Democrats this time does not mean that they are ready to fully embrace a far-left agenda. It is important to remember that America is still a center-right country, and just because independents are turned off by Trump’s rhetoric and hard-line positions does not mean that they want to counter Trump by supporting a party that becomes equally as extreme. Likewise, the take-home message for Republicans should be that they need to focus on more than solely on energizing Trump supporters. There may have been enough Trump supporters in the states that voted this time for this tactic to have worked at least marginally, but there will not be enough Trump supporters in 2020 for this alone to work on a national level.