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The Democrats Are the Likely Winners of the 2018 Midterms - How Do We Know That?

Updated on May 1, 2018

What about the past might indicate the future?

After a deflating loss in November 2016, the "left" are looking to piece together some sort of foundation for the midterms later this year. After a few special election wins1 (and a few seats saved), their focus is now on November 2018.


They are in a particularly vulnerable spot, however:

  • First, political analysts predicted that Hillary Clinton would win by a (quite large) landslide in 20172. The result of the 2016 election shocked many; an upset could occur once more.
  • Second, more Democratic Senate seats are up for grabs than Republican, giving them a larger margin for error (8 R., 25 D.)3
  • In the House of Representatives, Republicans hold control (235 R., 193 D., seven seats vacant.)4

There is hope for the Democratic Party. Most analysts are pointing to the fact that Trump won 10 states with a Democratic incumbent, and Clinton only winning one state with a Republican incumbent5. While this is true, I think that special elections can be seen as evidence that Democrats are holding momentum.


James Thompson speaks during the Kansas special election in 2017
James Thompson speaks during the Kansas special election in 2017 | Source

The result of the 2016 election shocked many; an upset could occur once more.

For one, Trump's most popular day, according to FiveThirtyEight, was the fourth official day of his presidency. His average popularity rating hovers around 40% (give or take around 5%). Obama at this time was around 48% and had started around 64%6. Obama was a whole 8 points higher in rating, and in no way popular. The midterm results in 2010 (and 2014) show that popularity rating of a president affects those available seats7. Harry Enten wants to make it clear that it isn't necessarily a 1-to-1 ratio, however, as that data has a +/- of 33 seats in the House vote, which makes it (very) hard to rely on it8. There are also structural issues, with district lines favoring the GOP, as well as voting averages being more male and more white in the midterms.9 All of this means that, while there is some evidence that an unpopular president means unpopular candidates, there's no guarantee.

Pictured is the data used to determine how presidential popularity ratings affect House seats (approval rating vs. change in House)
Pictured is the data used to determine how presidential popularity ratings affect House seats (approval rating vs. change in House) | Source

Two, special elections in 2017 highlight the possibility that those 10 states won by Trump in 2016 may come up democrat after all. For instance, in Alabama, Trump won that state by almost a 28 point margin over Clinton in 2016. However, in 2017, Roy Moore lost the state by 1.5%10. A tight win, but still a win. [To be totally fair, Moore was a very, very flawed canidate]. Just north in Kansas, Ron Estes won the seat by 6.8%, which may seem uncountable for the Democrats, but Trump won the state by 20.5% in 201611.

Within states, there is much evidence of leftward momentum. For instance, in New Hampshire, Philip Spagnuolo won by 7 points in a district that Trump had won by 12, taking out the Republican incumbent12. In Connecticut, a red member flipped a blue seat 51-49%, but that district was won by Clinton 49-47%13. Further east in Kentucky, Linda Belcher won against the Republican candidate in a district that polled 72-23% for Trump in 201614. All in all, Democrats have picked off 41 seats in special elections15, but what does that mean for the midterms?


Shown: Kentucky District 49, where Trump held an average of 68-23 over Clinton, was overtaken by Democratic candidate Linda Belcher
Shown: Kentucky District 49, where Trump held an average of 68-23 over Clinton, was overtaken by Democratic candidate Linda Belcher

Within states, there is much evidence of leftward momentum.

The rules of politics still apply to Trump and the GOP, and I don't know if there's any going back

There are many things that can happen between now and November, and all of them are unlikely. The democratic party is holding momentum now, and that will probably continue. The blue wave is sweeping America and likely drown Washington. Whether or not this affects 2020 will probably depend on the Democrat's performance. For now, one can conclude that Democrats are taking on a new strategy: trying.

References

1 https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2018/02/28/democrats-keep-winning-special-elections-blue-wave-may-coming-this-fall/uAkVqRiRnHJUZf5QG0bxdJ/story.html

2 http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2016/10/18/presidential-forecast-updates/newsletter.html

3 https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._Congress_elections,_2018

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/

7 https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-very-early-look-at-the-battle-for-the-house-in-2018/

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/12/roy-moore-loses-alabama-senate-race-doug-jones-wins

11 https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/kansas-house-special-election-district-4

12 https://www.vox.com/2018/2/27/17060358/new-hampshire-special-election-results

13 Ibid.

14 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kentucky-election/democrat-picks-up-seat-in-special-election-for-kentucky-legislature-idUSKCN1G507Q

15 https://www.vox.com/2018/2/27/17060358/new-hampshire-special-election-results

16 https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/special-elections-so-far-point-to-a-democratic-wave-in-2018/

17 https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/theres-no-reason-to-think-republicans-will-be-in-better-shape-a-year-from-now/

© 2018 Gage Simpson

Comments

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    • profile image

      Sanxuary 

      2 years ago

      More Reasons

      This is a Pro-Democracy movement opposing Tyranny.

      This is Americans who regardless of answers, demands that its leaders to answer them on the election, obstruction of justice and treason.

      This Americans sick of being lied to daily on the state of their lives and nothing has changed.

      This is AMERICANS sick of crazy, stupid, racist, bad policy, bad conduct and imoral behavoir and a total lack of leadership.

      We want our country back and we want the lackeys to pay. There is no Republican Party it is a group of criminals working towards dictatorship.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad 

      2 years ago

      Gage

      Great analysis here.

      The question I have is Why should voters want Democrats to win more seats in congress?

      What have they done in the last ten years for voters and the country to want them in control?

      Since the election, what have the democrats done for the country and the people?

      Thanks

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