What does data tell us about the midterm elections and beyond?

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

An estimated 113 million voters turned out Tuesday. A new record for a non-presidential year and 30 million more than 2014:

“We had high youth turnout. Now, again, it trailed turnout among older voters but it was still higher than it had ever been,” said Patrick Murray, founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “So, it’s getting there. The fact that over a 110 million people came out to vote suggests that they might be sick of politics but they know what matters.”

At Monmouth University, pollster Patrick Murray and FiveThirtyEight senior political writer Clare Malone shared their takeaways and analysis of the first national election in the Trump era.

For one, how Republicans fail to win state-wide races for national office in New Jersey but can win statewide for governor and vice versa in other states such as Tennessee. A former moderate Democratic governor there lost a U.S. Senate race.

“We are seeing people becoming entrenched in their political views and that determining, you know, voting straight down the ticket. Ohio being the exception. A Democratic senator winning and a Republican winning the governorship,” Malone said.

Six state legislatures flipped from Republican to Democrat, including New York’s, after Republicans gained a lot of ground during the Obama era. But, in the Midwest, trouble for Democrats – the result of “self-sorting.”

“Democrats have, what I kind of like to call, an efficiency problem of their votes. They’re clustered in cities. They’re not in parts of states that will help them flip elections or flip seats,” said Malone.

Malone and Murray say a college education trend has emerged. “Those white, college-educated women are splitting with women who don’t have a college education, who vote for Trump, and white, college-educated women are increasingly going over to the side of Democrats,” Malone said.

One of the questions from the audience had to do with polling, and how polling got it wrong in 2016 and what’s changed between that election and the midterms.

“There was a real divide voting Democrat and Republican depending on whether you had a college degree. We never saw that before,” Murray said. “If the polling was off because of a proportion of folks who didn’t have a college degree that contributed to the error in 2016. So, we’ve all made corrections for that one.”

Murray and Malone cite another analyst’s findings about 75 competitive congressional districts and Whole Foods Markets. “Democrats won about 70 percent of the districts with Whole Foods Markets and Republicans won about 70 percent of districts that didn’t have a Whole Foods,” Murray said.

The talk turned to 2020 and the oxymoron “successful failure” of Beto O’Rourke. He failed to halt Republican Ted Cruz’s re-election bid but succeeded in garnering tons of money, votes and national attention:

“In some ways, Tuesday night was a best-case scenario for Beto O’Rourke. I think that O’Rourke has certain advantages that Democrats might start to look at and say ‘Oh! Okay, here’s a progressive white guy who won’t alienate voters, who in 2016 might have voted for Trump because of racially-charged feelings about Obama.’ So, yeah, I think O’Rourke will probably run,” Malone said.

For now, thoughts on what the Democrat-controlled House should and will do with a president who’s warned the new majority about getting mired in investigating him.

“I think they will at least have a front of  saying, ‘We’re here to cooperate but we’re also here to investigate.’ Because I think they’re walking a thin line,” said Malone.

“I think, if Democrats were smart, and I think you’ve gathered that’s a big ‘if’ in my opinion, they would put together a big infrastructure package in the House and pass it as their first order of business, because that sends the message: ‘This is why you sent us here. This is the most important. Yeah, we’re going to keep a check on the president. We’re going to do some investigation. But, that really isn’t our priority,'” Murray said.

In other words, focus on a record of accomplishment to campaign on for 2020.