Why Democrats will do well on Election Day
WASHINGTON — I have often said when asked for predictions this year that I turned in my Prognosticator’s Union membership card at 11:45 p.m. on Election Night 2016.
Those who don’t like the labor movement (for which I have a long-standing fondness) shouldn’t worry: There is no prognosticator’s union. The idea was that all pundits should display a degree of humility after President Trump’s victory, which few of us expected.
But as a friend of mine once observed, you can’t chase the bookie from the track. So I am taking back my old union card and predicting flatly that the Democrats will be doing very well when the returns start rolling in on Tuesday night.
In House races, a 30- to 35-seat Democratic pickup is reasonable and may not even be the upper limit.
The Dems will grab a bushel of governor’s races, which I grant you is a vague prediction, but it’s intended to convey a very good night. To be more specific, at least three out of the four key blue-collar Trump states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin) will go Democratic. I strongly suspect that Andrew Gillum will win Florida and Stacey Abrams will come in first in Georgia, though I don’t know if she will be able to avoid a runoff.
And while the Senate remains a long shot for the Democrats, their chances of the inside straight they need to take the majority are not as distant as many think.
Now why would someone want to go out on a limb like this when there is no need to? I have four reasons.
The first is the inspiration of Yogi Berra, famous for his unusual and often hilarious verbal formulations. “We made too many wrong mistakes,” he said (or is said to have said) about the New York Yankees’ 1960 World Series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have pondered this line for years because I actually think that some mistakes don’t turn out to be so wrong after all, while others really are fatal. In the case of this year’s election, I think pundits are making the wrong mistake by being so worried about the mistake we made two years ago.
It’s true that almost no one (including, it would appear, the victorious candidate himself) expected Trump to pull off the narrow victories in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that would give him his electoral college majority. Therefore, there is a habit this year to bend over backward to assume that Trump has some kind of magic, that Trump voters always come out of the woodwork on his behalf in key places, and that Democrats can never shoot straight.
This, I believe, is the “wrong mistake” of 2018. Yes, gerrymandering may hold down Democratic gains and make a lot of races close. But virtually all of the evidence we have from the elections that have been held since Trump’s victory — the special elections and regularly scheduled state and local contests in 2017 — is of a rather hard swing away from the Republicans. Mobilization on the Democratic side has been far greater than among Republicans, and primary turnouts, with only a few exceptions, have favored the Democrats.
Democratic campaigns have been blessed with a volunteer force the size of which is unlike anything that has been seen since Barack Obama’s first race in 2008. And strong disapprovers of Trump have consistently outnumbered strong approvers by large margins — 43 percent to 28 percent in the pre-election Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example. This is another sign of intensity on the Democratic side.
Second, I believe Trump’s closing “argument,” focused on the “caravan” and his outlandish (and, to put it mildly, racially tinged) fearmongering, has hurt Republicans in the past week. Yes, it just might help a bit in a couple of Senate races in very pro-Trump states, but I am not even sure of that. What I know is that this is the last thing that will help Republicans among swing voters, moderates and especially women in the House races that are taking place on terrain less friendly to Trump.
It’s possible that Trump’s approach will increase Republican turnout in very conservative districts that Republicans were already going to win, but this is useless when it comes to holding onto the House. In the swing districts, moderate voters have been reminded of what they really can’t stand about Trump while liberals have been given another reason, if they needed one, to turn out to vote.
Third, when careful analysts such as Charlie Cook have changed their ratings on races over the past week or so, most of the movement has been in the Democrats’ direction. No, please don’t implicate Charlie in my overall analysis here; I’m using his numbers for my own purposes, and I certainly won’t blame him if I’m wrong. But he wouldn’t be moving those races, if he weren’t seeing something like what I am seeing.
And the last reason I offer this prediction is personal. I have never believed we are Donald Trump’s country, and I do not believe we ever will be.
My analysis of the 2016 exit poll data, based on the voters who disliked both Trump and Clinton, is that about 8 or 9 percentage points of Trump’s 46 percent of the vote were far more anti-Clinton than pro-Trump. So he starts with a base of, at best, 35 percent, and he has done nothing to add to it.
Except for a couple of outlier polls, Trump has never enjoyed anything like majority support. I also believe that many of the blue-collar voters who backed Trump in protest did not fully buy into what he said and do not have a lot to show for his presidency. That’s what the swing against his party in the Midwest will be about.
I think that there are a lot of African-American voters who want to stand up for their rights and enough white voters who want to speak up loudly against racism to give Gillum and Abrams a chance — especially since both of these candidates are (contra Trump) highly qualified and have done a very good job at both mobilization and persuasion.
If my predictions here are broadly wrong, I will have egg on my face and I’ll turn in that notional union card again, perhaps permanently. But this would not bother me nearly as much as being wrong in my analysis of who we are as Americans. In the end, I am predicting that we will turn our backs on Trumpism because I think that as a people, we really are much better than he thinks we are.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is [email protected] Twitter: @EJDionne.(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group