I pour some cold water on 2018 midterm overoptimism
In the wake of Conor Lamb’s election victory in Pennsylvania last Tuesday night, some Democratic partisans are suggesting that every GOP-held seat from a district that is less than trump +20% is in play.
Hold your horses. The results of last June’s special election in Georgia, in which GOPer Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff show that there is a roadmap to the GOP minimizing their losses in this November’s midterms.
Because while all of the legislative elections in 2017 and so far in 2018 have featured huge gains in Democratic turnout, the difference in Georgia was that there was a *similar* spike in GOP turnout. And this playbook is going to be easier for the GOP to run in nationwide contests than in local special elections.
Let’s start with turnout in Pennsylvania last week. Here’s the graph on point:
Democratic turnout in the PA special election approached that of Presidential election levels, while GOP turnout was much smaller. Simple point: when D’s turn out, and R’s don’t, D’s win.
Let’s take a similar look at turnout in the Virginia legislative elections last November:
What is noteworthy in this graph, and a point that was made at the time, is that it wasn’t only Democratic turnout that exceeded the levels of the last state election. GOP turnout was *also* higher, although not by nearly so much. Even so, that slight increase in GOP turnout was enough for them to hold on to the Virginia House of Delegates (literally, by one vote!) even though more votes were cast statewide for Democratic candidates, by a margin of 54%-46%.
Finally, let’s turn to the Georgia election from last June. Here is the similar graph:
While there was sky-high Democratic turnout, turnout by GOPers was almost as high — enough so that their candidate prevailed. In other words, when both D’s and R’s turn out at near-Presidential levels, the outcome resembles that of the district’s vote in the last Presidential election. That’s the point made in this analysis by Politico:
Pollsters say sky-high turnout drove Handel, the GOP nominee, to a nearly 4-point victory on Tuesday, despite most pre-election surveys showing Ossoff with a small-but-shrinking lead.
… [I[t wasn’t because Democratic voters didn’t show up. More than 259,000 votes have been tallied as of Wednesday afternoon, considerably more than the 193,000 votes in the first round of voting in April.
In fact, turnout was much higher than for other off-year special elections in recent history….
John Anzalone, Ossoff’s pollster, said the Democrat’s campaign succeeded in turning out its voters — but they were swamped by Republicans who came out in numbers that ended up dwarfing previous high-profile special elections ….
“When turnout starts going up that high, and people start coming out of the woodwork to vote,” Cahaly said, “it moves back to the [natural] alignment of the district.”
Cahaly added that, in his view, Handel and Republican outside groups also drove turnout by nationalizing the race.
In November, it is going to be much easier for the GOP and their propaganda organs like Fox to “nationalize” local elections, arguing that a Democratic House is likely to impeach Trump (true) and veto new regulations on, e.g., Muslim and Latino immigratiion proposed by Trump’s bureaucracy (true), while a Democratic Senate will refuse to confirm Trump’s anti-gay and anti-abortion Judicial nominations, including any vacancies that may open up on the Supreme Court (also true).
At the same time, they probably will use social media accounts to try to drive down Latino turnout by arguing that the Congressional Democrats sold out Dreamers (as to which there is at least some merit).
If so, the vote in Congressional districts and Senate races is likely to come closer to mirroring that from 2016. That strategy probably concedes that GOPers will lose any Congressional districts that voted more for Hillary Clinton than Trump. But under that result — even one in which Democrats “win” the number of ballots nationwide by something like 53%-47% — the GOP nevertheless retains control of the House and Senate.
While as I pointed out several weeks ago, demographics alone should make the electorate less reddish, people shouldn’t get carried away with over-optimism.