In the build-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats had high hopes for a blue wave– an overwhelming victory that would put them in power in Congress, governor’s mansions, and state legislatures across the nation. Midterm elections historically result in gains for the opposition party, but the combination of President Trump’s high unfavourability ratings and strong mobilization on the left, since the shock of the 2016 election, set incredibly high expectations for the Democratic Party’s chances on Tuesday, 6th November. Anything less than a substantial margin of victory for Democrats would be seen as a missed opportunity and could devastate morale among a voter base desperate for political wins.

Luckily for liberals, there was no letdown. Voters resoundingly delivered the blue wave they hoped for. As the final results have become clearer in the weeks following election day, Democrats appear to have won 40 net seats in the House of Representatives, achieving a solid majority and gaining control of the lower chamber of Congress for the first time in eight years. The Democratic Party won the overall federal popular vote by over eight points, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report [1], receiving roughly nine million more votes than Republicans overall.

Democrats, long ridiculed for having laughable communications and branding strategies, were rewarded largely as a result of their disciplined messaging, running a sound platform based not just on opposition to President Trump, but campaigning hard on improving the health care system and protecting coverage for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions– issues critically important to the vast majority of voters.

Winning the House is a fantastic coup in itself, but the blue wave was fully realized with victories down the ballot, as Democrats gained seven governorships, flipped control of seven state legislatures, and captured over 330 state legislative seats across the country.  These wins did not just come in typical blue states on the coasts and in New England, but across a variety of 2016 swing states that voted for Donald Trump, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These wins show that President Trump’s much-vaunted support among rust-belt voters is declining and show clear warning signs about his 2020 electoral prospects.

It is also important to note that the blue wave came from one of the most motivated and engaged electorates in American history. Overall voter turnout in 2018 exceeded 115 million voters, about 49% of the electorate. Which as Dave Weigel of the Washington Post notes is the highest turnout for a midterm election in the history of the United States since the onset of universal suffrage [2]. Americans are now paying better attention and more willing to go out and vote now than ever before, and they are overwhelmingly voting Democrat.

Some may point to Democrats’ likely net loss of three Senate seats [3] as a huge blow and sign that 2018 was not a wave election, but doing so would omit important context. Democrats were defending eight seats in states Trump won by ten or more points in 2016 and prevailed in five of them. Preventing major losses in those states, as well as flipping two crucial seats from red to blue in Arizona and Nevada, is probably a result most Democratic leaders would take if offered before the election.

The Democratic Party now finds itself in its strongest position thus far in the Trump presidency. Their hold on the House not only affords them the ability to keep Trump’s worst policy impulses in check, but also gives them the ability to deeply investigate the President’s tax returns, ties to foreign entities, and host of other potential corruption scandals lying under the surface.

Perhaps most importantly, Democrats will also have the power to introduce and pass popular progressive proposals on topics improving the American health care system, making higher education more affordable, and expanding voting rights for marginalized communities. While Senate Republicans and President Trump will surely block those bills from becoming law, the rhetorical weight of having real policies to champion–as opposed to simply standing in opposition to everything the GOP does– will have Democrats well positioned to campaign on a long-term vision for the American public in the run up to the 2020 election. An election that Democrats surely look like the odds-on favorite to win two years out.

[3] At the time of writing, the Mississippi Senate race has not yet been resolved, with a runoff to be held on 27th November, but current polling suggests the Republican candidate will win the race handedly.

Featured image: Democrat house candidate Sharice Davids reacts before speaking to supporters at a victory party in Olathe, Kan., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Davids defeated Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder to win the Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District seat. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley).  (http://www.theitem.com/stories/democrats-gains-threaten-trump-agenda,317857)


Patrick Ronk is a a first-year Master of Public Administration student at the LSE. Patrick previously studied Government and Politics at the University of Maryland (2016) and most recently worked as a senior associate at Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington, DC, where he focused primarily on education and technology policy.

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