And there you have it, folks — the 2018 midterms are finally over.
Looking back, last night’s races for Congress seem relatively…boring. After all, Democrats flipped the House by a reasonable margin and Republicans extended their lead in the Senate. There were some surprises, though, including statewide Democratic defeats in Indiana and Florida, alongside upset GOP losses across a flurry of House districts.
You’ll undoubtedly come across numerous thinkpieces and listicles over the next few days that all claim to contain the biggest election takeaways. They’ll go on and on about how Trump faces new problems with a Democratic House (sure), or how record turnout numbers point to growing political involvement (maybe), or maybe even how the Democrats just clinched a 2020 nominee in almost-Senator Beto O’Rourke (probably not).
With this in mind, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and present some off-the-wall takes of the 2018 midterms! Here are some inferences I’m drawing that you probably won’t get from a typical news source, for better or worse.
1) Polls & Forecasters Had a Good Night
Oh yes, the polls. One of my biggest fears after the 2016 election was that people would continue to be skeptical of public opinion surveying — I’m not kidding when I say that I lost sleep over worrying about how close polls would be on November 6th.
Luckily, my prayers were answered. While it’s still too early to get an exact read on metrics like the national popular vote or the total number of House seats each party will hold, we can deduce that individual polls were accurate (i.e. within the margin of error) in a majority of races, and the generic ballot turned to out to be right.
A caveat, by the way: I know the polls did not predict every winner, but shouldn’t have expected them to. In many contests, polling of the same race showed different outcomes, and razor-thin margins nationwide meant that some surprises should be expected.
On that note, political forecasters also fared well, with both traditional handicappers and statistical model-builders spot-on with their predictions. Similar to the polls, a few races came as shocks, but their toplines remained reliable.
Going forward, trust will hopefully be restored in these institutions. Pollsters and prognosticators deserve at least some credit for how much work they’ve done this year. After all, not only has their work been getting better, but they’ve also gone great lengths to make it more accessible and easy-to-understand.
2) Scandal Didn’t Matter As Much As We Thought
Okay, this is the take that probably doesn’t “matter” as much as the other two, but it was interesting nonetheless.
There was a trio of races last night where the incumbent faced recent indictments. All three — Duncan Hunter in California’s 50th congressional district, Chris Collins in New York’s 27th congressional district, and Bob Menendez in New Jersey’s Senate race — won.
Of course, these candidates were not without their setbacks: Hunter faced unfavorable polls, Collins almost didn’t make it on the ballot, and Menendez’s once-reliable Democratic seat was considered a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. (a decision I disagreed with, and that ultimately seemed pretty hasty).
It’s important to note that this year’s margins were significantly smaller than their totals in previous elections, meaning that the scandals did have some impact; it just wasn’t enough to seal the deal. In an age where the president is considered immune from most controversy, it’ll be interesting to see how, and if, this starts affecting other politicians.
3) Democrats Have An Uphill Battle in the Senate for 2020
I know we literally just voted yesterday, so apologies for already looking forward to the next election. This point is important, though.
With Democrats defending 24 seats in the Senate, we already knew that the 2018 map was incredibly unfavorable for them, and last night proved it. Unfortunately, they won’t have an easier time in two years.
I should clarify — mathematically, the breakdown is almost the opposite of 2018, as 22 GOP seats are up for reelection. The biggest problem for Democrats is that three-quarters of those are reliably red, giving them few places to make gains. Thus, the Democrats’ best-case scenario is flipping four seats without losing one of their own. With people like Doug Jones in Alabama running, that’s a tall order, and if they do pull through, a Senate majority is far from guaranteed.
In the end, the midterms may not be a cause for celebration, for if Democrats want a shot at flipping the Senate next time, they’ll now need nothing short of a miracle.
Last night’s results are already being dubbed a “choose your own narrative” election, because with vastly different stories in races for the House, Senate, and Governorships, you can spin the midterms to mean whatever you want and still technically be right. It’s a strategy we’ll surely see Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and other party leaders employ, and it’s one you should get used to.
I know I said that November 6th would provide us with long-awaited answers, and in regards to knowing who will control Congress, it did. But in the process, the midterms have also created a whole new set of questions, ones that may not have a set date for resolution.
As corny as that may sound, it’s the truth. So, as focus shifts to the 2020 campaign, I encourage you to remember the lessons you learned from last night, whatever they may be, to help you navigate the next 24 months.
And if all else fails, just look at the polls.
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