What The 2018 Referendum On Trump Could Mean Next Year

Written by on March 7, 2019


The 2018 midterm election were the story go how two years of Trump– along with a supine, enabling GOP Congress– impacted voters. According a study by Brookings, electoral support for Democrats– or, more accurately, withdrawal of support for Republicans– happened nationally and in every kind of county, in fact more so in suburban and rural areas that traditionally support Republicans than in big city counties where Democratic support is already maxed out.

New England is pretty iffy territory for Republicans to begin with and the single Republican House member in the region was defeated– and defeated in a largely rural district (Maine’s second) by a candidate who campaigned on his own record in the state legislature as a progressive Democrat. There are 67 counties in the region. All 67 saw an increase in voters support for Democrats running for the House. That’s astounding.

Pennsylvania also has 67 counties and 66 of them showed increases for Democrats. Only Bucks County bucked the trend and showed a slight increase for the Republican candidate, although this was a very specific situation about the 2 candidates, rather than about the two parties. In 2016 Republican Senate incumbent Pat Toomey was reelected against a very weak Democrat 51.9% to 46.4%. In 2018, Democratic incumbent Casey Bob Casey pulverized a weak Republican challenger 56.2% to 42.2%.

But where the trend became the most apparent was in very Republican areas where Trump did well in 2016– every one of Montana’s 56 counties saw an increase in support for Democrats and in 53 of them, the increase was double digit. Every county in North Dakota swung towards the Democrats, same in Trump’s top two state’s– Wyoming, where every one of the 23 counties saw Democratic support increase, and West Virginia, where all 55 counties went bluer by double digits. Another mega-state for Trump in 2016 was Oklahoma. Of 77 counties, 75 went in a Democratic director, including all the population centers and virtually the entire eastern part of the state swung blue by double digits. Idaho– 42 or the 44 counties swung towards the Democrats, as did every single county in Iowa, almost all the counties in Michigan and most of them right across the rest of the Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Illinois, Missouri; even throw in Kentucky! Republicans still won more votes than Democrats did in many of these counties in red states, of course, but the counties with the bigger populations tended to swing over to the Democrats. 60% of the nation’s voters lived in Democratic-led counties, compared with 40% of voters residing in counties where Republicans held the advantage. “More importantly,” explained Brookings, “in a vast majority of counties– even in those won by Republicans in 2018– more voters favored Democrats in 2018 than in 2016… In a majority of counties (2,445 of 3,111)0– irrespective of whether the final 2018 vote favored Republican or Democratic candidates– there was a positive D-R margin shift between 2016 and 2018 (meaning either a greater Democratic advantage or a smaller Republican advantage).

Counties With “Republican” Attributes Showed Greatest 2018 Democratic Voting Margin Gains

How demographically distinct are the counties that registered the greatest increases in Democratic support (or reductions in Republican support)? To assess this, it is useful to look at attributes of residents in counties that showed a sharp rise in D-R margins.

The 2016 election exit poll results made plain the attributes that differentiated Republican (Trump) voters from Democratic (Clinton) voters. While Trump voters were more commonly categorized as being whites without college degrees, older persons and native-born Americans, Clinton voters were more strongly associated as being racial minorities, persons below age 45, and foreign-born Americans.

Table 1 examines the population attributes of U.S. counties with the objective of understanding how those with the highest 2016-2018 gains in D-R margins (gains greater than 10) differ from all counties with these attributes. It makes this comparison separately for counties that voted Democratic and those that voted Republican in 2018 because, as discussed earlier, both groups exhibited increased D-R margins (or reductions in their negative D-R margins).

Counties with increased D-R margins tend to have “Republican leaning” attributes, when compared with all counties: greater shares of non-college whites and persons over age 45, and smaller shares of minorities and persons who are foreign born. This occurs among both Democratic-voting and Republican-voting counties, and suggests that there was a shift toward Democratic support in counties that helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.

2018 Democratic Margins Increased In States Key To The 2020 Election

The victorious party in the 2020 presidential election will rely on the Electoral College rather than the popular vote. A comparison of 2018 House voting results with those of the 2016 presidential election makes plain that the there is ample opportunity for a 2020 Democratic win. Map 3 depicts states where Democrats and Republicans won the cumulative state level House votes.

It differs from the results of the 2016 presidential map wherein the Republican candidate (Trump) won more than 270 Electoral College votes, based on winning support from states such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. As shown in Map 3, all of those states registered Democratic advantages in their 2018 House elections. If those results hold for the 2020 election, the Democratic candidate would receive 293 electoral votes—enough to win the presidency.

…[M]any have argued that the 2018 House elections were a referendum on President Trump. If this is the case, then the broad shifts toward greater Democratic support– spilling over into a vast majority of Trump-won counties– could be ripe for harvesting by the right Democratic challenger to Trump in 2020.

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