Five Takeaways from the 2018 Midterm Election
By: Nick Santangelo
“There is nothing normal about this election—in a good way!” proclaimed Political Science Chair and Professor Robin Kolodny last Friday.
The 2018 midterm election saw unusually high youth and general voter turnout for a non-presidential election year, Dr. Kolodny told Temple University College of Liberal Arts (CLA) students last Friday. The talk was the semester’s final event of the History Department’s weekly Teach-in series organized by Professor Ralph Young. Among other points, Dr. Kolodny identified five major takeaways to help students make sense of the election.
1. Stomping out Gerrymandering Is Crucial to Holding Fair Elections
Pennsylvania is infamous for being one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. At least, it was until earlier this year when the Pa. Supreme Court struck down the state’s gerrymandered congressional districts. For the uninitiated, gerrymandering involves creating congressional districts in such a way that distribution of voters favors one major political party over the other.
As Dr. Kolodny pointed out, Pennsylvania’s formerly gerrymandered districts were so bad that a suburban Philadelphia district under the old map was jokingly dubbed “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.” The courts ruled this map to be unconstitutional and used a third-party expert to create a new map when Governor Tom Wolf (D) and the Republican-controlled state legislature were unable to agree on a new map.
This resulted in Democrats flipping four U.S. House of Representative seats from Republican control. Pennsylvania will have nine Democratic and nine Republican representatives starting in January. This even split is closer to what you might expect from a state in which 47 percent of registered voters are Democrats and 37 percent Republicans, with many Democrats clustering around major cities.
2. The Midwest Got Bluer
Long a Republican stronghold, the Midwest became even more so during the 2016 election. Democrats lost many races that year in Rust Belt areas like Western Pa., Ohio, Indiana and others. Things went a bit differently this time around.
“Lots of Midwestern states got bluer than they have ever been,” explained Dr. Kolodny, “but nobody lives there, so by the time we do the next census, they’re going to lose representation.”
It was a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration. But her point was that the Democrats flipped a number of House seats in states like Iowa and even the governorship in Kansas, but some of them aren’t long for this world. New congressional maps will be drawn up in 2020. Hopefully they’ll feature less gerrymandering than 2010’s maps. Either way, some seats will be taken away from certain states and more awarded to others.
3. The Polls Were Wrong, But Not Terribly So
Leading up to the election, there was talk of a potential “blue wave.” Most polls had Republicans holding onto control of the Senate and Democrats wrestling away control of the House and picking up several new governor’s mansions. That’s essentially what happened, but not exactly how it was predicted. The Democrats actually lost ground in the Senate and didn’t net as many gubernatorial flips as some predicted. Dems grabbed a net gain of up to 37 House seats and between seven and nine governor’s mansions, but Republicans netted between two and five Senate seats. (Some races remain undecided.)
Dr. Kolodny described the pre-election polls and media predictions as being not “as bad as they might have been” but still not great. They missed on some of the districts and states that flipped and the margins by which some candidates won.
4. Republicans Should Have Done a Bit Better
A chart Dr. Kolodny shared displayed how it’s normal for the president’s party to lose House seats en masse during a midterm. In fact, 1998 and 2002 were the lone midterms since 1950 in which this didn’t happen.
Some pundits had been predicting the Republican Party would lose even more House seats than it did last week, but Dr. Kolodny said that was never realistic. The economy is doing too well (3.7 percent unemployment rate), and most of the country’s population distribution still favors Republicans (Democratic Senate candidates received about 12 million more votes than their Republican counterparts).
Dr. Kolodny said this meant Republicans should have performed slightly better than they did. There are a few reasons why they didn’t.
5. Youth Participation and College Educations Made a Big Difference
Youth and college-educated voters made a big difference in many races. Voters aged 18-29 voted Democrat over Republican at a rate of 2:1, and many more 18-29-year-olds voted in 2018 than did in the 2014 midterm. Thirty-one percent of eligible voters in this age group cast a ballot in 2018, a huge increase from most midterm elections, even if it is well shy of the 51 percent that voted in the 2016 presidential election.
Dr. Kolodny also pointed out that white Americans with college degrees broke for Democratic candidates in 2018, a change from 2016 when they broke for Donald Trump. Minorities, meanwhile, tended to support Democrats this year, as they did in 2016, while non-college-educated white men were the biggest supporters of Republicans. But no matter whom CLA students support, Dr. Kolodny issued a reminder that they’re far from guaranteed to deliver what they promised.
“All candidates lie,” said the professor, mentioning protections of Medicare for the elderly that may or may not materialize as an example. “What they should say is that ‘I will vote for anything where we can get a coalition of 218 [representatives], and then it will go through the Senate and then hopefully the president will sign it.’ That would be honest, but it doesn’t make for a very good commercial.”