Sunday, November 25, 2018

Lack of Wave for Democrats Is Anything But Good News for Republicans

In the final congressional race to be decided, incumbent David Valadao clings a lead over his Democratic challenger T. J. Cox in the race for California Congressional District 21.  Some media outlets had projected Valadao the winner on election night, but since then the lengthy counting of absentee and provisional ballots has narrowed Valadao's lead from a few thousand to, as of today, 447.  Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight projects that, when the counting is done later this week, Cox will end up the winner.

If Silver is correct, that would mean the Democrats have picked up 40 seats in the U.S. House, an
astonishing achievement especially considering most congressional seats were drawn by Republican state legislatures to ensure GOP representation.  Loss of the 40 seats is the worst performance for the GOP in midterms since 1974, the first election after Watergate when the GOP lost 48 seats.

Some people are calling it a blue wave.  That it was not.  But the fact the vaunted blue wave did not happen is not cause for celebration for the GOP.  Rather it is cause for alarm.

I have seen wave elections during my lifetime.  Most recently there have been Republican waves in 1980, 1994 and 2010.  For the most prominent recent Democratic wave one has to go back to 1974.  Waves are elections in which enthusiastic supporters of one party go to the polls while disillusioned or apathetic members of the other party stay home.  As a result of the skewed turnout, wave elections result in unexpected election victories by second, even third tier, candidates.

Top-notch political analysts such as Silver, Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato identified every competitive House race in 2018. There were no wave-type surprise candidates winning districts not identified as competitive by the experts.

Republicans did not stay home in 2018. They came to the polls in droves, matching Democratic enthusiasm.  And while Republican turnout saved GOP control of the Senate (due mostly to a very favorable map), it did not stop the GOP from losing scores of House seats and control of that body to the Democrats.

If the GOP could point to its voters staying home as the reason for the poor midterm election result, that would be a significant problem, but one that could be resolved.  But since Republicans went to the polls and the GOP still got shellacked, the problem is actually much worse. 

The 2018 midterm was not a wave election.  The 2018 was a realigning election.  The election witnessed women and suburbanites abandoning the GOP in droves.  But the defections do not end there.  Exit polls show virtually every demographic group moving away from the Republican Party.  Even the claim that "red states have gotten redder" is mostly a myth.  Baseline GOP numbers are down in those red states, including Indiana which saw a 3 point decline in Republican statewide baseline numbers from 2014 to 2018.  Fortunately for the Indiana Republican Party, there is plenty of cushion for statewide GOP candidates in midterm election.  But Hoosier statewide elections during presidential election years are generally much closer and 3 points could be the difference between a Republican Attorney General and a Democratic one.

What's worse than a wave election?  A realigning election.

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