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ICYMI: Why Democrats’ Gain Was More Impressive Than It Appears [NYT – Nate Cohn]

“Democrats over-performed the national environment by recruiting great candidates with records of service, managing complex primaries, focusing on candidate resources and winning the messaging war on healthcare and taxes,” said DCCC Spokesman Tyler Law. “Our strategic and tactical successes rose to the occasion in the most consequential midterms in modern history and delivered a Democratic majority.”

Why Democrats’ Gain Was More Impressive Than It Appears | NYT
By Nate Cohn
November 7, 2018

It wasn’t necessarily the night of either party’s dreams. The Democrats are poised to gain around 35 House seats after Tuesday’s elections. Republicans seem likely to gain a few seats in the Senate, and they triumphed in some high-profile governor’s races.

But Democrats faced formidable structural disadvantages, unlike any in recent memory. Take those into account, and 2018 looks like a wave election, like the ones that last flipped the House in 2010 and 2006.

In the House, where the Democrats had their strongest showing, it’s impressive that they managed to fare as well as they did. In a sense, Republicans had been evacuated to high ground, away from the beach.

At the beginning of the cycle, only nine Republicans represented districts that tilted Democratic in the previous two presidential elections. Even in a wave election, these are usually the only incumbents who are standing on the beach with a greater than 50 percent chance to lose.

There were 24 such Republicans in 2006, and 67 such Democrats in 2010.

Democrats had so few opportunities because of partisan gerrymandering and the tendency for the party to win by lopsided (and thus inefficient) margins in urban areas. It gave Republicans a chance to survive a hostile national political climate that would have doomed prior parties. By some estimates, Republicans could have survived while losing the popular vote by nearly a double-digit margin.

The Democratic geographic disadvantage was even more significant in the Senate this cycle. There, Democrats were defending 10 seats carried by the president, including five that he won by at least 18 points.

As a whole, the House Democratic candidates overcame all of these disadvantages. They are on track to win more seats than Democrats did in 2006, with far fewer opportunities. They even managed to win more seats in heavily Republican districts than the Republicans managed to win in heavily Democratic districts in 2010.

Democrats pulled it off with an exceptionally deep and well-funded class of recruits that let the party put a very long list of districts into play. In prior years, the party in power wouldn’t have even needed to vigorously contest many of these races.

This year, Republicans generally succeeded in recruiting high-performing candidates to Senate contests in Florida, North Dakota and Arizona, even in a national political environment that sent House Republicans for the doors.

Democratic House candidates were helped by the declining value of incumbency, which made it harder for Republicans to outrun disapproval of the president.

[…] Perhaps Democrats still would have won the House without redistricting efforts and with a more typical number of Republican retirements. We still don’t know the full picture because the counting has not been completed. But Democrats are likely to win the national popular vote in this election by seven to eight points once late votes — which typically lean Democratic — are counted.

That would be a slightly larger margin than Republicans achieved in 2010 or 1994. It would be about the same as the Democratic advantage in 2006. It would be, in a word, a wave.

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