President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 revealed noticeable divisions among voters in the United States along geographic, ethnic, educational, age and other lines. However, many in the Republican Party believed that the polarization in the 2016 Presidential election and the “love or hate” attitude voters have towards President Trump would not apply to the same degree in the mid-term congressional elections of 2018. In this year’s mid-terms, 470 senators and members of the House of Representatives were on the ballot, but not President Trump. At the many rallies the President held for Republican candidates before the election, he told the crowd to pretend he was on the ballot. Whether a 2018 GOP congressional candidate wanted it or not, the 2018 congressional elections were indeed about Donald Trump. Exit polls showed that almost 68% of voters said their vote for a congressional candidate was intended to send a signal to the President (37% negative to 31% positive).
New York Times columnist David Brooks accurately observed days before the election that “Congressional elections are now mostly just mini-versions of presidential elections. The quality of any individual candidate matters a lot less, and there’s much less variation in how different candidates are conducting their campaigns. Everybody’s political positions are more dug in. College-educated suburban women really don’t like Republicans. White men without college degrees really don’t like Democrats. Urban America is really blue. Rural America is really red. The race in 2016 entrenched those positions on the presidential level. The 2018 race entrenches them all the way down the ticket.”
One objectively good thing about President Trump is that he inspires people to vote. Over 115 million votes were cast in this year’s election, well above the 83 million votes cast in the 2014 mid-term and the 91 million ballots cast in the 2010 mid-term. 49.2% of eligible voters turned out, the highest percentage since the 1914 midterm election. The United States, though, still trails behind most European nations and Canada in turnout for national elections, with those nations averaging around 65% in voter turnout in their most recent national elections.
David Brooks was pretty much spot on with his election forecast. First, college educated women voted for Democrats by a margin of 69% to 30% and white men without a college degree voted GOP 66% to 32%. There were notable differences among other voter groups, too. Young voters voted Democratic by a 67% to 32% margin, while older voters voted GOP 50% to 48%. Latinos voted Democratic by a margin of 69% to 29%, and of note the Latino share of the total rose from 7% in 2014 to 11% in 2018.
So how did such a voting pattern play out across the United States? As you can guess, the Democrats won big in urban, and more so, suburban districts. Going into the election, the GOP held 25 suburban districts where Hilary Clinton won in 2016. The Democrats took over 20 of those 25 GOP seats. The Democrats also took over a number of suburban districts that President Trump won in 2016 by single digits. Democrats now represent 70% of all suburban districts and 98.8% of all urban districts. Looking at the 116th Congress, 156 of the 235 Democratic seats will represent the East or West Coast of the United States. There will be more Democratic members in the state of California than Democratic members in 35 other states combined!
In the end, the Democrats should end up taking 40-42 seats from the GOP to take control of the House for the first time since 2010. The GOP flipped three Democratic seats. In the Senate, the GOP should end up taking a net 2 Democratic seats, as many predicted, to remain in control of the Senate with a 53-47 margin.
The 2018 elections exposed that America is deeply divided, and now so is the United States Congress with a Democratic controlled House and a Republican controlled Senate. If Congress wants to pass any major legislation it will take compromise, which is good. And there are issues which polls and past legislative efforts show have bipartisan support, such as the need to improve the healthcare system, the need to address immigration, support for public infrastructure improvement and privacy issues. However, the 2018 election brought both parties more to the extreme and key moderates in both parties either retired or were defeated. The Democrats in the House will focus heavily on oversight and investigations of the Trump Administration, which will not engender much cooperation between the two parties.
While one should not expect much from the 116th Congress in terms of key legislation, there will be a lot of action on security related issues, such as cybersecurity, supply chain security, privacy, and transportation security, and ASIS will continue to share important developments on the issues that matter most to the world’s security professionals.