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A Blue Wave, or just a ripple?

As the dust settles after the midterms, analysts are in broad agreement that a demographic shift among voters could spell trouble for Trump in two years' time.
18 Nov 2018 – 11:48 AM EST

Democrats made sizeable gains in the Nov 6 elections, but was it a ‘blue wave,’ as some have been calling it? Given that Republicans increased their control of the Senate, it wasn’t exactly the tsunami some over-optimistic Democrats were hoping for.

In fact, with so many close races still hanging in the balance on election night, it wasn’t immediately clear which side did better. Some Republican analysts derided the Democrat gains as a “blue ripple,” while President Donald Trump was quick to call the results a “tremendous success” for his party.

Now, ten days later a clearer picture is emerging, with Democrats regaining firm control in the U.S. House of Representatives with 231 seats to the Republicans 198, a gain of 36 seats. That margin could widen as six seats are still undecided.

Democrats made inroads in deep red states like Texas, Arizona, and Nevada, while winning back lost terrain in the industrial midwestern ‘rust belt’ and wiping out the Republican stronghold of Orange County in southern California.

Democrats won the House popular vote by almost seven percentage points, the third-highest popular vote margin of any election since 1992, according to the Cook Political Report. Women, latinos and younger voters all poured out in support of
Democrats across the country, electing a string of new candidates the party is excited about.

Put all that together and analysts, included some Republicans, are now more confident in their verdicts.

“It was a wave,” said David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida who quit the party last month and is now an analyst on CNN and MSNBC.

Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party called it “an unintended surgical strike. A lethal one at that.” The Republican losses in the south-west, once considered a Republican stronghold, was especially damaging, he pointed out.

“Demographic changes and anti-immigrant rhetoric have flipped Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and further deepened our disadvantage in Colorado and California,” he said.

The New York Times called it “a blue shift” noting that 317 of the 435 congressional districts swung to the left, even though only 39 of those districts actually flipped from Republican to Democratic. The districts that flipped to Democrats had an average shift of 21 percentage points, The New York Times found, while the average district nationwide moved 10 percentage points to the left, even where Republicans won.

The results were all the more impressive, some analysts pointed out, because of disadvantages Democrats faced, including gerrymandering of safe districts in Republican-controlled states.

“In a sense, Republicans had been evacuated to high ground, away from the beach,” according to The Upshot, the data analysis team at The New York Times.

One thing about which there is no argument was the surge in turnout by supporters of both parties.

Turnout in last week's election was the highest midterm turnout in 104 years, according to Michael McDonald, with the Election project at the University of Florida.

In Texas, over 8.3 million voted, almost double the 2014 midterms.

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Demographic wave

Democrats say Latino turnout surged 174% in the midterms, according to Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Hispanic community will also have a record level of representation on Capitol Hill with at least 42 members: 34 Democrats and eight Republicans in both chambers. One House race featuring a Hispanic candidate, Gil Cisneros in California, has yet to be decided.

The CNN exit poll shows the Democratic margin among Latinos grew 14 percentage points from 26 to 40; while it grew 4 percentage points among women, while the party turned a three-point 2014 deficit among college graduates into a 20-point advantage.

Exit polls can be unreliable, but the Democratic data firm Catalist also found a slight, but significant shift in the overall share of the vote. The share of white voters dropped by 3%, from 79 percent to 76 percent, while the share of blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans each rose by 1%.

And that might be the most telling wave in the 2018 election, said Jolly. “The political demographics, the heartbeat of the country’s politics, are moving away from where the Republicans are, and rather than respond to that the Republicans are moving away from where the heartbeat is,” he said.

The performance of losing Democrat candidates in Texas and Georgia “boggles my mind,” Cornell Belcher, a progressive political strategist, told MSNBC. “Texas is to the GOP what California is to Democrats, but you had a Democrat come within two points of taking out a sitting Republican Senator,” he said, referring to the close race between Beto O’Rourke and Senator Ted Cruz.

“That should send shock waves all across the Republican establishment,” he said.


The main anomaly confounding the blue wave was Florida, where a recount is still underway with Republicans ahead in both the senate and gubernatorial races. That was partly explained by the demographics of the ‘Sunshine State’ which has a growing Hispanic population but also attracts retirees due to the warmer weather and low taxes.

“We’re not shedding population. Younger voters are not replacing those that are dying off,” said Daniel Smith, chairman of political science at the University of Florida. “Florida’s tough. Younger voters coming of age are being counterbalanced by older voters moving to the state who are more likely to vote.”

To be sure, a midterm election is not always a good indicator of the next presidential vote. For example, Obama did poorly in 2010, only to bounce back in his 2012 re-election. What is clear from the 2018 midterms is that the Republican Party will have to up its game in two years’ time if Trump is to stand a chance of re-election.

“Overall, Republican Senate candidates ran well behind Trump” in nine of ten 10 key states that Republicans hopes to win this year, concluded Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia. That didn’t prevent at least three of those candidates, in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota from winning, with a strong chance of picking up a seat in Florida as well.

But, “as we look ahead to 2020, Trump will need to replicate his 2016 performance -- and not the performance of GOP Senate candidates -- to carry key states that voted for him in 2016.”


Red Versus Blue