RELEASE: New CAP Election Analysis Highlights Voters’ Rejection of Trump and GOP Policy Agenda

Washington, D.C. — A new analysis of the 2018 midterms elections from the Center for American Progress highlights voters’ rejection of President Donald Trump and Congressional Republican leadership’s policy agenda. The election analysis, conducted by CAP senior fellows John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, says that voters sent “a clear message of disapproval to President Trump and congressional Republicans” and that the Republican Party “failed to persuade voters outside of already conservative or rural counties and states to stick with the GOP.”

“The wave of House seats—mostly in moderate, suburban districts—flipping from red to blue is good news for the Democratic Party as it looks towards 2020. This movement is a clear rejection of several of Trump and the Republican Party’s most divisive and controversial policy stances, which, while popular with their base, turned off many moderate and independent voters,” said John Halpin, senior fellow at CAP and coauthor of the analysis.

“The 2018 midterm elections offer valuable insights for both parties as they look towards the 2020 contest. It’s clear that stoking the right-wing base will not be enough for President Trump to secure re-election. If Democrats want to succeed in winning back the White House and making electoral progress elsewhere, they must work quickly to take advantage of the incumbent president’s vulnerabilities and offer an inclusive and forward-looking vision and agenda,” said Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at CAP and coauthor of the analysis.

Halpin and Teixeira’s analysis highlights several key trends that emerged from last night’s results:

  • President Trump has not expanded his support in any significant manner and his policy agenda has dragged down his popularity, particularly with independents. The president’s disapproval ratings have been higher than his approval ratings for his entire tenure. Strong economic indicators could not overcome some of the president’s most divisive and unpopular policies on health care, tax, and immigration. Exit polls indicate that Republicans lost significant ground with independents in 2018, relative to Trump’s decent showing among them in 2016.
  • Trump’s standing in the Electoral College is uncertain. Outside of Florida and Ohio, where Republicans appear to have held off an opposition surge this year, Democrats made substantial statewide gains in key states in the 2018 midterms, controlling the governorships of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and picking up Obama-Trump districts in the state of Iowa. Trump’s hold on the Electoral College, which was weak in 2016 with only a narrow victory of around 80,000 votes in three states, is therefore tenuous—at best. Democrats only need to add Pennsylvania and Michigan back to their column plus either Wisconsin or Iowa to win in 2020. This assumes Florida and Ohio remain for Trump and no changes occur in emerging battlegrounds such as North Carolina, Arizona, or Georgia, neither of which are given.
  • However, Democrats have demographic and geographic challenges in relation to both the Senate and some key Electoral College states. Despite advantages that emerged in the 2018 midterms and overall favorable demographic trends, the Democratic Party base of support is still shaky in terms of potential turnout and support rates going into 2020, at both the presidential and Senate levels. Youth turnout and turnout from voters of color looks very strong for 2018, but even minor dips in key Electoral College states can shift the terrain toward Trump. Likewise, the concentration of Democratic support in metropolitan areas diffuses overall demographic advantages and increases the chances that large turnout and support from Trump’s base, primarily white noncollege-educated voters in more rural and working class states, can once again lead to a narrow victory.
  • Democrats need to develop a strong and popular vision to counter Trump’s nationalist message. Despite Trump’s manifest political deficiencies, he does benefit from very strong support and fervent backing from most Republicans. In contrast, the Democrats successful, mostly nonideological “big tent” strategy for 2018 will not hold for 2020. In order to ensure strong Democratic base turnout and persuade Obama-Trump and more white noncollege voters to return to the party, Democrats will need a very clear and compelling vision that convinces voters that they are on their side on economics and social policy and are willing to make significant changes to a political system that is viewed as corrupt and often unresponsive to voter needs.

While more detailed results will shed light on deeper analysis, looking at turnout and the composition of the electorate, Halpin and Teixeira also found:

  • There was an exceptionally high turnout for a midterm election. While it would be surprising if the turnout of most demographic groups did not go up, it does not necessarily mean that the share of voters attributable to these various groups necessarily went up.
  • Vote breakdown by race. The National Election Pool (NEP) exit polls, compiled by Edison Research for a consortium of news organizations, indicate that the share of white voters fell from 75 percent in 2014 to 72 percent this election. There was also a rising share of nonwhite (black, Hispanic, Asian, and other race) voters, which increased from 25 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in the 2018 NEP exit polls. Some of this increased vote share, if real, was due to the increasing nonwhite share of eligible voters, rather than unusually high nonwhite turnout. Exit polls also indicate that Democrats lost the white congressional vote by 10 points this election, a substantial improvement over their 22-point loss in 2014. Among nonwhites, Democrats improved their margin among Hispanics from +26 to +40 across the two elections, from +79 to +81 among blacks, and from a mere +1 among Asians to +54 this election.
  • Republicans and white noncollege voters. Republicans under Trump maintain a strong hold on white noncollege voters in more rural and exurban counties and states across the country. However, they are rapidly losing support among college educated whites in many suburban and metropolitan areas and face particular challenges with women and voters of color.
  • The gender gap is “alive and well.” There were big shifts toward the Democrats among many voter groups, given that the overall House popular vote shifted from +6 Republican in 2014 to the current estimate of +7 for the Democrats this election. Notably, women went heavily for Democrats, with a +19 margin in the NEP exit polls, while Republicans had a +4 margin among men. Comparable figures for 2014 were +4 for Democrats among women and +16 for Republicans among men.

Click here to read “Voters Repudiate President Trump and GOP Policy Agenda; 2020 Re-Election Far From Certain” by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at apreiss@americanprogress.org or 202.478.6331.