Democrats Win Big in 2018 Midterm Elections

November 6, 2018, was a huge night for Democrats. Not a perfect night, but a huge one. National House popular vote was +7 toward the Democrats, with millions more California mail votes to be counted. That’s significantly larger than past “wave” elections in 2014 (R+5.7), 2010 (R+7.2), 2006 (D+8.0), and 1994 (R+7.1). When all is settled, I think Democrats will have picked up about 37 House seats. They won all their expected seats, most of the tossups, and a handful of their “reach” seats.

Eight years ago, practically everyone, myself included, assumed that the GOP would have control of the House for the foreseeable future, given how effectively Republicans were able to gerrymander district lines after their own wave victory in the 2010 elections. That, combined with Democratic clustering in cities and Republican dominance in suburbs, seemed to suggest a near-permanent majority. My, how things changed quickly after 2016, with most of those pickups coming in suburban districts that were long-thought safe for Republicans.

Democrats had bad nights in the Southeast (Florida and Georgia), which I think soured some of the Democratic cheerleading on TV because those results came early in the night. The Republicans avoided disaster and got something of their own to brag about by picking up 2-3 Senate seats in the historically Republican-slanted senate map (Democrats had to defend 26 seats, many in Trump states, compared to the GOP defending 9). When it came to the Senate, the Republicans did what they needed to do to keep confirming federal judges and to avoid sending Trump controversial legislation to veto. Democrats can find some hope in this, however, with the Dems winning the Senate popular vote 45 million to 33 million and, looking ahead to 2020, it will be the GOP defending 22 seats, many in states that Clinton won.

Democrats also picked up at least seven Governor’s mansions, too, which will be significant for redistricting after the 2020 Census. I haven’t heard much about state legislative seats/chambers, but I suspect they made healthy gains there as well, given those topline numbers. We do know that the Democrats had a net gain of six statewide “trifectas” (where the same party controls the governorship and both chambers of the legislature). Meanwhile, the GOP lost four such “trifectas.”

That D+7% House margin should scare Trump for 2020 but don’t forget – Clinton and Obama both had similar midterms their first term and both went on to relatively easily reelections. The only difference is that both Clinton and Obama governed with a sense of humility after their losses, a trait I’ve yet to observe in President Trump.

The most important thing that probably changed November 6 is that Democrats now have a seat at the table when it comes to national matters. At least one chamber of Congress will be willing to investigate the Executive Branch and act as a check on Trump’s legislative agenda. I get the sense that a lot of Democrats (at least the ones I see on Facebook and TV) were disappointed initially but I really think that’s a combination of having too-high of hopes going into the night and those early returns from Florida and Georgia. Beto O’Rourke was never expected to win in TX and FL/GA were by no means locks. The GOP was expected to either hold the Senate or make slight gains. Relax, Democrats. The night wasn’t perfect but you got most of what you wanted – a national rebuke of Trumpism by a significant margin, control over Congressional investigations, the ability to run in 2020 on progressive House legislation (that will certainly fail in the Senate), and the ability to stop many Republican gerrymanders in a lot of states formerly held by Republicans.

About Dr. Steven Nawara

Dr. Steven Nawara, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Lewis University teaches American Politics and Research Methods.

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