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Election Math

election2018One of my personal strengths is math. I am able to grasp numbers and see their pattern. I remember numbers well (Memory hint for Yankees fans: Remember the associated Yankees star when remembering numbers) In business and life, good math skills are handy. But sometimes there can be data overload which clouds the overall analysis. Such was the case with the recent mid-terms as it’s hard to sort through the results to fully understand the pattern, hence this special post-election math Struming.

As we all know, mid-term elections were held in early November. Beyond local and Gubernatorial elections, there were 435 elections for seats in the House of Representatives and elections for roughly 1/3 of the US Senate (35 seats). Some basic facts to remember:

1. Representatives for the House are elected for 2-year terms every 2 years: ALL 435 seats are up every even year.

2. There are 100 members of the Senate (2 per state), and terms are 6 years, so roughly 1/3 of the Senate is up every even year.

Pretty simple.

So, what happened this year? (Note the data below has been updated from the original post to almost final data from early Dec.)

First of all, the “sexy” elections (TX Senate, FL Senate and Gov, GA Gov) got tons of national coverage. Other elections got little. The sexy elections were clearly important in those states and caught our eye nationally, but they were no more/less important than others to the total outcome. Every election in every district and state is equally important to the math.

So, what were the overall results?

–A blue wave?

–A split decision?

–Neither?

The bottom line is that the result was a really strong outcome for Democrats, wave and tsunami nomenclature notwithstanding. A true victory but not a total knockout. In looking at the macro results it’s important to remember that every race is an independent event, no matter how sexy or invisible to the nation. But the overall rolled up numbers were dramatic and clearly were far stronger for democratic candidates—in the House, Senate, and Governor races. Even in the Senate, you ask? Yup, despite losing 2 seats …even in the Senate, actually dramatically in the Senate.

Here’s the math—pay attention

1. House of Representatives

56.1 Million votes were cast for Democratic candidates (52.1%) and 49.6 Million votes were cast for Republican candidates (46.1%). That’s 13+% more votes for a Democratic candidate, a decided majority.

A blue tsunami. Not really? Good news for Republicans looking to stem the tide? Nope. Actually really bad news for GOPers. The House elections resulted in the Democrats winning 39 more seats and as of early December and hold the following advantage:

234 Democrats

198 Republicans

3 still undecided

Not chopped liver. This is clearly a big turn around for the House. The implications of this turn around will be apparent as Democrats assume control of the House in January. You feel the winds of change ahead even a month away.

2. Senate

Here’s the math that’s not fully understood. Democrats won 59% of Senate votes (51.5 Million) and Republicans just 39.4% (34.4 Million) That’s 50% more votes cast for Democratic candidates! Of course this is heavily weighted to elections where a Democrat was the incumbent, but this is whopping difference. 2020 won’t be as dramatic, but control of the Senate will surely be in play in 2020 (see below)

Huh? How could there be such a decided majority of blue votes and yet the result was that Democrats LOST seats in the Senate? Here’s why, and why it was virtually impossible for them to gain Senate control in 2018. Remember only 1/3 of the Senate was up for election (in this case 35 seats), and 26 were Democratic incumbents…..this time.

So, there was almost no scenario where the Democrats could have regained control of the Senate (remember even 50-50 gives control to the Republicans as the VP serves as a tie breaker)

The final results in the Senate were that 24 Democrats won, and 11 Republicans won. Sounded like a big Democratic victory? It was,  but remember this was an election of largely Democrat incumbents. Most won, some were toppled but as a result, the Republicans won 2 more Senate seats. Confused? Don’t be, as the opposite will be true in 2020.

2020 senate electionsThat’s the rub because in 2020, as shown in the map, it’s Republicans who have to defend 22 seats compared to just 12 for Democrats. Of course, many of those seats are in deeply red states, so there’s little chance that Democrats will do as well as 2018. However… just a split decision of those 34 seats would yield a democratic majority in the Senate. Even a small loss could still yield a Democratic controlled Senate. And obviously a tie goes to the party of the President through the VP’s tie-breaking vote. Confused?

3. Gubernatorial races

Beyond House/Senate there were many Gubernatorial elections in 2018, actually 36 in total. More than 2/3 of all states elect their governor during mid-term elections. For what it’s worth, our founding fathers blew this one— as a nation we would have far greater participation in odd year elections if state elections were held on odds years with ½ each time. However, in 2018, elections were held in 36 states–26 of the 33 states with Republican governors, 9 of the 16 states with Democratic governors, 1 state (Alaska) with an independent governor.

But going into the election there were 33 Republican governors in 50 states, roughly 2/3 of governors. But as a result of the election there’s now almost an even split with 23 Democrats and 27 Republicans. Big shift. That will help the Democrats balance the redistricting tide that hurt them in the post 2010 Census (see below). In total despite the majority of races being held in states where there was a Republican incumbent, there were still 2+ Million more votes cast for Democratic candidates (45 Million Democratic votes vs. 42.7 Million Republican votes), a telling sign of the waning strength of even popular incumbent Republican candidates.

What does the future hold?

1. Redistricting

This is big stuff for the 2020s ahead. The census will be conducted in 2020, after which the House of Representatives and state legislatures undergo redistricting, and the state delegations to the United States House of Representatives will undergo reapportionment. In states without redistricting, commissions, the legislators, and governors elected between 2017 and 2020 will draw the new Congressional and state legislative districts that will take effect starting with the 2022 elections. Having a more equal balance of Governors based on the 2018 elections balances this playing field, but if either party does well in the 2020 elections, they could gain a big advantage in electing their candidates to the state legislature and the United States House of Representatives throughout the 2020s.

2. Demographics

The growing diversity of our country continues and is pronounced in certain states. But a more racially, ethnically mixed nation with a more engaged Millennial voting population tends to favor Democratic candidates. This is an ongoing trend that will continue into the foreseeable future. On the flip side a growing senior population tends to be more conservative.

In terms of the candidates, we saw far more female winners than ever, though still minority. This will continue to change in the future.

3. Overall engagement

The big winner in the 2018 mid terms was the American public. There were 114 Million votes cast vs. 83 Million in the 2014 mid-terms, a 37% voting increase. This was the first time there were more than 100 Million votes in a mid-term. Whoa. Despite (or perhaps because of) the growing polarization of the voting public, people were engaged—so they voted. And that is good, regardless of which candidate they supported.

4. What will the next 2 years be like?

Like Clubber Lang’s prediction of his fight with Rocky in Rocky 3, the prediction is pain. Pain if you like the President since the House will thwart legislation it does not agree with and their oversight will create major fights and a tsunami of subpoenas to come. And where the Mueller investigation leads no one knows yet.

But pain on the Democrats side as the Senate will continue as a Republican dominated body with its conservative judicial appointment approvals. And Executive Orders from the current administration will in most cases be counter to Democratic Party philosophies.

Furthermore, nothing short of Trump’s very unlikely impeachment AND conviction (remember impeachment does not yield dismissal) will change the equation. Don’t put your chips on that outcome. So expect divisive political tension to continue.

5. 2020 begins now

Mark November 3, 2020 on your calendar. 1000 things will happen between then and now. Watching cable news has become painful. It’s addictive but there’s Too much stimuli. Too much “breaking news” and “constitutional crises”.

As we look to 2020, there is no clarity on who will lead the Democratic party as of the moment. There are too many wanna-be candidates to focus on just yet. My 2 cents is that a lesser profile candidate will emerge as the nominee. Remember the last 3 successful Democratic candidates (Carter, Clinton, Obama) had virtually no national awareness 2 years before the election and they each were young. I wonder if that’s part of the formula success for a Democratic candidate. But there is power in incumbency which makes a second Trump term a possibility. But November 3, 2020 is still a long way off. There’s much to unfold between now and then.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Every election is important, particularly a Presidential election. But even though it’s a way off, November 3, 2020 will be a whopper. I’d love a sneak preview of what our nation looks like on November 4, 2020 after it’s over.




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6 Comments

  1. Great analysis, Lonny. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Ed Melman says:

    Good and accurate analysis. The big problem is lack of appropriate candidates who are ( stupid enough ) willing to slog through the political tar pit. I’d consider Corey Booker as a possibiltiy but he could use more experience. I would prefer not having anyone over 65 and ideally would like someone 50-60. Unless of course the Strummer wants to run.

  3. Thanks, Lonny. If only the cable shows provided the factual analysis and clarity you have given. Your figures about the nearly-balanced governorships surprised me. Good to see in 2018 that the Democrats realized that state and local officeholders play a role in setting the national direction of the country.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks, Trish. Simplicity is always best. I had to do some homework to be sure I was on top of the data. But then thought about how to simplify it for easy consumption. Hope all is well.

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