GW Expert Weighs in on Midterm Elections Results

GSPM Director Lara Brown said the country should expect more gridlock than bipartisan legislation in the next two years.

lara brown
GSPM Director Lara Brown says it is unlikely that Congress will focus on policy making over the next two years. (William Atkins/GW Today)
November 12, 2018

By Tatyana Hopkins

The 2018 midterm elections cycle has closed.

In the end, Democrats grabbed enough seats to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, while Republicans grew their majority in the Senate.

Citing healthcare as their top concern over the economy for the first time in a decade, voters went to the polls in numbers that produced 50-year highs and left the electorate feeling that the nation is becoming more politically divided.

While Republicans and Democrats split key governor races, women and LGBT candidates across the country had historic wins as the nation elected a record number of women to Congress and Colorado elected the country’s first openly gay governor. Additionally, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and Florida passed a measure restoring voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million felons.

Graduate School of Political Management Director Lara Brown analyzed the midterm elections results and shared her thoughts with GW Today.

What are some key takeaways from this election?

The Democratic Party rebounded from the 2014 and 2016 elections—they won House seats in suburban districts across the country and made significant gains in many of the states that had gone for Trump in the previous election.

The Democrats won the House majority, and at this point in time, it appears that they will net about the average number of House seats (37) that a president's party loses in a midterm when their  approval rating is below 50 percent. Further, the average seat loss of the four political science forecasting models that were published in October, but were calculated in July and August, also suggested that the Republicans would lose 36 seats. Aside from this, the overall popular vote totals for the House are telling.

As of Friday morning, Democrats had garnered about 4.5 million more votes than the Republicans. As I noted on Wednesday in a piece for The Hill, this was a major turnaround from 2014 when Republicans had won abut 4.6 million more popular votes for the House than Democrats. Looking at the Senate, even though there remain two states that have yet to be called, the Republicans only marginally expanded their majority and are likely to gain only one or two seats. Democrats took back the control of seven governors' mansions and two competitive contests in Georgia and Florida, that have traditionally been the solid Republican South, have yet to be called.

Democrats picked up a larger percentage of the toss-up seats, results that were comparable to 2006 and 2010

In short, the midterm election can be categorized as a "blue wave."

Additionally, voter turnout was high. And while the final numbers are not yet in, we know that it was the "highest turnout of any midterm election since 1970," according to the New York Times

What does a divided Congress mean for the future of governance in the next two years?

With the House now under Democratic control, it is likely that that many of the chairs of the committees will perform oversight of the White House and the executive branch agencies. This means that the House will be able to investigate many of the controversial decisions that the Republican majority had ignored.

The Republican-led Senate will continue to prevent legislation from making it to the president's desk and force confrontation that would end in either a signature or a veto. So, it seems unlikely that Congress will focus on policy-making. Hence, we should expect more policy gridlock and the revelation of more political controversies other than bipartisanship and new legislation.   

 How did moderate candidates in both parties perform in this election? 

Republicans were able to defend some moderate House members, such as Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.). That said, moderate Democrats, many of whom were veterans, such as Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.), picked up many of the suburban and exurban seats across the country.

Many states are reporting the highest voter participation for a non-presidential election in decades. What does that kind of turnout portend for the 2020 presidential election? 

Certainly, Democratic voter interest will be high because there will likely be the largest number of Democratic candidates vying for the nomination in history. Whether or not President Trump will be able to rally the Republicans to his side remains in question because his base is shrinking in size, and there are only so many times that a leader can rely on fear-based messaging with his followers before they, too, become exhausted and disinterested. 

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