The Blue Wave
Comparing Predictions and Results
The supposedly impending “Blue Wave” invaded the imaginations of the American electorate and media alike, stoking fear among Republicans and hope among Democrats in preparation of the 2018 midterm elections. Last Tuesday, a week before the November 6th midterm elections, Notre Dame’s Constitutional Studies department hosted a debate between Damon Linker, senior correspondent at TheWeek.com, and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of National Review magazine on what that Blue Wave was really going to look like, if it panned out at all.
Both Linker and Ponnuru agreed that if any part of Congress flipped, it would be the House of Representatives, not the U.S. Senate. Ultimately, turnout would be the determining variable for projections of such a wave, according to Linker. According to CBS News, an estimated 113 million people participated in the 2018 midterm elections. This makes it the first midterm in history to exceed over 100 million votes, with 49 percent of eligible voters participating in the election. By comparison, the 2014 midterm elections had one of the lowest turnouts in American history, with only 36.4 percent of eligible voters participating.
This exceptional turnout did not result in the tsunami-like Blue Wave hoped for by Democrats. Instead, Linker and Ponnuru’s predictions rang true. The House flipped to the opposite party as the President, much as it has traditionally done in past midterm elections. The Democrats gained control of the House by at least 27 seats, while the Republicans remained in control of the Senate.
Linker thought that Democrats’ major obstacle would be gerrymandering and the urban clustering of Democrats. He suggested that these issues could result in a representative or senator winning the total number of votes, but when the votes were distributed across districts, losing the race. While that prediction has not yet materialized, the Democrats did win the House with about 8 percentage points more of the popular vote.
A possible strength of Democrats in the midterm elections was proposed by Linker: diversity in ideology. Using the method of divide and conquer, the Democrats could run a social Democrat like Ocasio-Cortez in a liberal New York City district and win, and also run a social conservative in Western Pennsylvania, like Connor Lamb, and win. Ultimately, Linker was correct: Cortez and Lamb won, and suburban districts around the U.S. broke for the Democrats’ handpicked representatives. The caveat of this plan was that this strategy could also hurt Democrats down the road, creating possible “weakness in the presidential election, as someone will have to be chosen to be the standard bearer for the democratic party in 2020.”
Ponnuru argued turnout was not the only variable which the Blue Wave rested on. Undecided voters could be the crucial factor, as they were in 2016, in determining whether or not there would be a democratic Blue Wave. A week before the elections, 10% or more of voters in critical House races said they did not know which party’s candidate they would vote for. Ponnuru predicted that, because it was the best electoral map Republicans had seen in almost 20 years, they would pick up a seat in the Senate. In fact, Republicans picked up approximately 3 seats in the Senate.
Looking forward to 2020, Ponnuru and Linker agreed that it was a unique time in American political history. Regardless of how the election went, Ponnuru did not believe either party would rethink their strategies moving forward. He followed by saying: “Both parties believe they have the mandate of some sort of silent majority. This results in courting turnout rather than convincing voters ideologically.”
In many ways, Linker and Ponnuru’s predictions panned out: the high turnout demonstrated that getting citizens to vote was a primary strategy of both sides, and once those voters came to the polls, they voted along the same ideological, partisan lines as 2016. Republicans did well with rural voters, white Southerner voters, and low-educated voters, while Democrats won among city-dwellers, minorities, and highly-educated white suburbanites. The divides that were present in 2016 are only strengthening.
Claire Marie Kuhn is a senior majoring in political science with a minor in Peace Studies. She enjoys long afternoon naps and iced green tea lattes. To talk with her over one of those lattes, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.