Against the Grain

The Biggest Lessons of 2018

Expect more partisanship, more gun-control legislation, and higher Hispanic turnout going forward.

Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
Nov. 13, 2018, 8 p.m.

Now that the election is (almost) over, it’s time to pore over the results and Edison Research exit-poll data for insights. Democrats rode a blue suburban wave to easily win back the House, but learned that President Trump has a resilient base of support that turned out in large numbers as well. In the spirit of "Against the Grain," here are some of the more intriguing and counterintuitive findings:

1. Among midterm voters, Trump’s job-approval rating hit 45 percent. That’s not good, but it’s notably better than his 36 percent favorability rating for the 2016 presidential election. His job approval is also a point higher than President Obama’s standing in the 2010 and 2014 midterms (44 percent). And it’s a 2-point improvement on George W. Bush’s approval during the GOP’s disastrous 2006 midterm election (43 percent).

2. Turnout in the midterms will hit its highest level since 1914. Over 115 million Americans showed up to vote, with the turnout rate of eligible voters currently just under 49 percent. That surpasses the 48.7 percent turnout level set in 1966, and would be the highest in over 100 years.

3. Most red-state Democratic senators weren’t popular (win or lose). All politics isn’t local anymore. Only two of the five solidly red-state Democratic senators had a net-positive favorability rating at campaign’s end: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and losing Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana won despite half of the state’s voters viewing him negatively. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri posted the worst numbers of the bunch, with 55 percent of the state’s voters viewing her negatively.

4. Four Republican Senate candidates won college-educated white voters. The four were: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and losing New Jersey candidate Bob Hugin. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota tied Rep. Kevin Cramer with the Democratic-trending demographic.

5. Hispanic voter turnout surged for Democrats in Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. Hispanic voters made up 18 percent of the vote in Arizona (up 3 points from 2016), 18 percent in Nevada (same level as 2016), and 26 percent of the vote in Texas (up 2 points). All this happened in a midterm-election year, when Hispanic turnout levels typically drop significantly. Republican Govs. Greg Abbott (Texas) and Doug Ducey (Arizona) were much more effective in winning over these voters than their Senate GOP counterparts.

6. Kyrsten Sinema won in Arizona by persuading Republicans to vote for her. Sinema won over more Republican voters (12 percent) than any other Democratic Senate candidate other than Manchin in West Virginia (17 percent). Republican attacks on her past antiwar activism had little impact on her bipartisan standing. She also won 48 percent of men, a higher total than nearly all of her Democratic counterparts in closely contested races.

7. Beto came closer to winning, but Bredesen won more crossover voters. In our polarized political climate, it may now be near-impossible for candidates to win over a critical mass of voters from the other side. Beto O’Rourke received 48 percent of the Senate vote in Texas, a 5-point improvement on Hillary Clinton’s showing two years earlier. But fellow Democrat Phil Bredesen, despite tallying only 44 percent of the Senate vote in Tennessee, ran 9 points ahead of Clinton. It’s a reminder that Texas is becoming a more competitive state, while Tennessee is now a Trumpian stronghold.

8. Stacey Abrams turned out her base, and turned out her GOP opposition as well. First-time voters were supposed to be the engine of Democrat Stacey Abrams’s pathbreaking gubernatorial campaign in Georgia, seeking to reshape the red state’s electorate with a wave of nonwhite liberals. But she won only 53 percent of first-time voters, suggesting that her base-first campaign also helped Republican Brian Kemp turn out rural conservatives to the polls.

9. With Democrats in control of the House, expect gun control to be on the legislative agenda. Of the 53 percent of voters who don’t have guns in their house, a whopping 72 percent voted for the Democratic candidate. Democratic candidates who explicitly ran on a gun-control message in swing districts—Reps.-elect Lucy McBath of Georgia, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Jason Crow of Colorado among them—were mostly successful. And GOP Reps. Brian Mast and Brian Fitzpatrick, who notably broke with their party on the issue, were among the few suburban Republicans who survived the blue wave.

Michael Bloomberg’s cash-flush Independence USA PAC, which funded Democratic candidates who supported gun regulations, went a stunning 21-for-24 in House races—nearly all of them in closely contested contests. It’s likely more Democrats will tout support for gun control in future elections in swing suburban districts.

For more from Josh Kraushaar, subscribe to the “Against the Grain” podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

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