A “Referendum” on Trump?

UPDATED 11/20/18

I was wrong when I predicted (here and here) that the Dems wouldn’t retake the House. They did, and in rather convincing fashion. Including three undecided races (two GOP leaders, one Dem leader), the Dems will have gained 39 seats. That’s a pretty good showing by historical standards:

So, was 2018 a “wave election” for Democrats, as many Democrats and pundits expected it to be? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. “Wave” is vague. (Pun intended.)

But I will say this: If there had been something like a “wave”, the Dems would have retaken the Senate, too. They certainly were in a position to do so, needing only a net gain of only two seats to go from a 49-51 minority to a 51-49 majority. (I’m counting two so-called independents as Dems because that’s how they vote.) But, instead, the GOP added two seats (assuming that Sen. Hyde-Smith of Mississippi retains hers in next week’s runoff), and will open the 116th Congress with a 53-47 majority.

Here’s how 2018 stacks up against previous mid-term results for the Senate:

Why the disparity between the House and Senate in this year’s mid-terms?

If the mid-terms had been a “referendum” on Trump, as often suggested (even by Trump), the House and Senate would have gone in the same direction. They didn’t because the election wasn’t entirely about Trump.

One story is that the Dems gained in the House because of a focus on health care. It is the Dems’ own creation — Obamacare — that has pushed health-care costs and premiums ever higher in recent years. But that matters not to ignorant voters, who are sucked in by promises to “get it right”. Dems are good at making such promises.

The Senate results tell a different story. It was possible for Trump to lend visible and vocal support to GOP Senate candidates in a way that he couldn’t for the vastly greater number of GOP House candidates. So, if anything, the “referendum” on Trump occurred in Senate races, and Trump won.

What Blue Wave?

Are Democrat spinmeisters or the mainstream media (pardon the redundancy) correct in believing that Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama means that 2018 will see a “Blue Wave”, in which Democrats retake one or both houses of Congress? Wasn’t Moore’s loss a continuation of the Dems’ “stunning” sweep of statewide offices in Virginia? Doesn’t all of that portend a repudiation of Trump in 2020?

The answers are “no”, “no”, and “no”. Moore’s loss was a one-off event that had everything to do with Roy Moore and nothing to do with the political leanings of Alabamans. It is ludicrous to believe that Alabama has suddenly become a Purple State when Trump’s 64-percent share of the two-party vote surpassed the share received by any GOP candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.

It is similarly ludicrous to believe anything about the elections in Virginia other than their consistency with that State’s burgeoning blueness. Bush II, for example, took 54 percent of Virginia’s two-party vote in 2000 and 2004, but McCain, Romney, and Trump won only 47-48 percent in 2008-2016. The Old Dominion is increasingly dominated by the rapidly growing cities and counties of Northern Virginia that are political appendages to Washington DC. (The same is true of Maryland and its rapidly growing appendages to DC.)

The 2018 elections will hinge manly on how voters feel about what the GOP-controlled Congress has done for them. And by election day 2018, most of them will be feeling a lot better because the government is taking a lot less from their paychecks. Continued revival of the economy will also help to buoy voters’ spirits. Unless something very bad happens between now and election day, a pro-incumbent mood will sweep most of the land. There will be exceptions, of course, as this or that Representative or Senator is exposed as a philanderer, swindler, or something else unseemly. But those exceptions tend to affect Democrats just as much as Republicans.

What is actually happening, in the grand scheme of things?

A naive forecast of the 2016 presidential election, based on State-by-State trends between 2008 and 2012, produces 245 electoral votes for Trump. The naive forecast doesn’t predict a Trump win in any State that he lost. Moreover, it under-predicts the extent of the pro-GOP movement in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — States that Trump won, and the electoral votes of which put Trump over the top.

A naive forecast of the 2020 outcome,  based on State-by-State trends from 2008 through 2016, produces 329 electoral votes for the GOP candidate. Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania will be joined by Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire as Red States.

As an old saying (of mine) goes, trends are made to be broken. But the betting here is that the 2018 and 2020 elections are the Republicans’ to lose.

Speaking of trends, here are some relevant graphs:

The first graph covers 10 States that were Red in 2000 and have led the way in becoming Redder since then. Note that all 10 have rebounded from the Obama effect in 2008, which was the occasion of temporary insanity among many voters who usually pull the lever for GOP candidates.

The second graph covers the 10 States that have led the way in turning Blue or Bluer since 2000. You will note that even among some of these States Obama-mania shows signs of wearing off. Only California and DC seem determined to plunge deeper into political madness.

California, by the way, more than accounts for Clinton’s popular-vote “victory” over Trump. (Clinton won California by 4.3 million votes, as against her meaningless nationwide margin of 2.9 million votes.) This is further proof, if proof were needed, of the Framers’ wisdom in creating the Electoral College. It is also a big point in favor of my fearless forecast for 2020.


Related posts:
“Blue Wall” Hype
Polarization and De-facto Partition
The Midwest Is a State of Mind