So you may not have noticed, but last Tuesday was an election night in America! Although most of the country wasn’t voting simply because these were mostly local elections, the areas which did vote, and specifically who voted, is really interesting.
The two most important races were for the governorship of New Jersey and Virginia. New Jersey’s outcome was never really in doubt, as the Republican incumbent Chris Christie is now the most unpopular governor in American history who hasn’t been convicted of a crime. Virginia though is much more “purple,” as although it has voted Democratic in the past three presidential races, it voted for Bush W. both times. Virginia is still considered a “southern” state, but its rapid growth of suburbs near Washington D.C. and rapid demographic changes have made it a competitive state for both parties.
The polls had the Democrat and Republican candidates as neck-to-neck in Virginia. But it wasn’t close at all, with Democrat Northam beating Republican Gillespie by 54% to 45%. That is a bigger margin than Clinton’s victory over Trump in the state. So what happened?
Two things. Many groups stayed consistent with previous elections, including minorities, young people, and retirees. One group that didn’t was the “working-class whites,” meaning white people with no post-high school education. It wasn’t that they shifted in favor of Democrats, as they proportion of voters actually looks similar to what it was in 2016. What did change was that there was a significant drop in working-class whites voting. Many decided not to make a choice at all, and a big source of Republican votes didn’t turn out to the polls.
But the group that did shift was in the suburbs. The suburbs are really an interesting voter block because in today’s two-party split, it’s one of the most likely groups to jump between blue to red. Suburbs tend to be wealthier and more educated, believing in fiscal responsibility. They also tend to be very moderate on social issues. The common trope is that one of the most gettable voters are “soccer moms,” women who can be swayed by a convincing argument by either party.
The suburbs did mostly go for Clinton in 2016 but not by a decisive margin. 2016 was largely a “personality campaign,” not one on policy… and both candidates were really flawed in the personality department.
On Tuesday however, the suburbs really kicked Republicans in the teeth. Northam won suburban women by 19%, the biggest shift of any voter group since 2016. Not only that, the suburbs had some of the highest turnout in the state.
It isn’t hard to understand why working class whites didn’t turn out and why the suburbs went all blue. The past year has been brutal. No significant legislation has passed. Every time the Republicans have gotten close to passing healthcare, the law is hugely unpopular. The upcoming tax bill is also ridiculous, not only because it increases the deficit by $1.5 trillion. It’s so dumb because it barely lowers taxes for most Americans, while the richest 5% of Americans gets almost all the tax cuts. You may think that sounds pretty good for the suburbs, until you realize that amazingly this bill raises taxes for Americans in the 80 to 95%.
This of course ignores the constant drum of the President’s personal issues, where it seems every week he finds a new low to step in (failing to condemn Nazis and attacking an army widow come to mind). It’s possible that voters could ignore bad policy or personality issues when alone. But in combination, there really doesn’t seem to be any good reason to vote Republican.
Now people are already making up excuses for why Gillespie lost, and Breitbart and Trump himself are saying it’s because the candidate didn’t embrace Trump’s policies enough. This doesn’t hold up because, well he did, running ads accusing Northam of supporting sanctuary cities and wanting to take down Confederate monuments. And two, Republicans were blown out of the water everywhere, not just in Virginia. The Democrats secured a “trifecta” controlling the Senate, House and Governorship in New Jersey and Washington State. They also are on track to win the Virginian House of Representatives, something no one predicted. Maine voted to expand Medicaid (the expansion is part of Obamacare’s legislation). Out of twenty-five mayoral elections, Republicans won only Omaha and Miami, and the first African-American was elected mayor of Charlotte North Carolina, and the first Sikh (of any U.S. city) in Hoboken New Jersey.
Other symbolic wins including a Republican New Jersey legislator who tweeted this;
and got defeated by one of the women who were at that protest. America’s first transgender legislator also defeated a Republican who called himself, “Virginia’s chief homophobe.” When asked after her victory whether she wanted to attack her defeated rival, she answered, “I don’t attack my constituents, Bob is one of my constituents now.”
None of these electoral problems seem to be ones Republicans are willing to fix or even realize. The one thing they think is necessary is passing tax reform, which I’ve already pointed out seems designed to please no one except for their big donors. And the biggest anchor on them is the President; half of voters said Trump factored in their voting, and nearly 70% of those said disapproval of Trump made them vote Democratic.
So this all looks great for the Democrats. That said, in order to win the next few elections, they need another wave. A big reason Republicans control Congress is because they were able to draw many of the electoral maps, gerrymandering the map in their favor. Districts often look like this;
So to overcome that inherent advantage means the Democrats need to replicate that wave nationally. Winning the Senate will be even more difficult, with only eight defending Republicans, most in very conservative states. To win the Senate, Democrats will have to win Nevada, witch is a purple state so definitely possible, but also Arizona, a state that has been trending blue with Latino immigration but still depends on a swing to Democrats to win.
But they need to win a third seat to take the chamber, and although I used to think the biggest chance was overthrowing Ted Cruz in Texas (which I’ll admit is essentially impossible), the next best opportunity has suddenly become *GASP* Alabama.
Perhaps the most conservative state in the nation has suddenly come into play. The Republicans have nominated Judge Roy Moore, who was removed from the court twice, first for refusing to take down a statue of the 10 Commandments, and again for refusing to allow gay marriage after the Supreme Court decision. He has compared homosexuality to bestiality, said Muslims should be barred from running for office, and said that the Bible should supersede the Constitution in law.
Now I still thought he would win, until he somehow got worse.
First he was accused of corruption, funneling more than a million dollars from a non-profit to himself. But even more shockingly is when four women came out and accused him of pedophilia.
Moore has denied both charges. Before the pedophilia charge, Moore was leading his Democratic rival by an average of 6 points, which is pretty incredible when you think how Doug Jones is most famous for successfully prosecuting KKK members for the Alabama Baptist Church bombing. But this is Alabama.
The charge of pedophilia hasn’t factored into polling yet. Winning would be a case of the “perfect storm,” for Jones, relying on disillusioned Republicans, energized Democrats, and he still could lose (last time a Democrat won in that state was 1990).
But the fact that Alabama is now in play shows how scared the GOP should be. They had locked down the Presidency, the House, and the Senate in one masterstroke. And because of bad governance and loose morals, they may lose all of the federal legislature in only two years.