There’s still a huge amount of data from Tuesday’s elections to be analyzed, but there are also some very clear lessons that emerged.
In the light of morning, it turns out that what may have seemed like a modest blue ripple was, in fact, a fairly impressive–albeit very uneven– wave: Michael McDonald of the Election Project estimates national turnout at 111.5 million. That’s the first time in US history that a midterm exceeded 100 million votes. If the New York Times initial estimate is correct, if Democrats won the national popular vote by 9.2 percent, that would mean the margin was over ten million. That’s pretty impressive.
The most important result, of course, was recapture of the House of Representatives. The Senate was never really in play, given the number of seats at risk and where they were–but although the odds vastly favored Republicans this year, they will be equally if not more favorable for the Democrats in 2020. (Granted, by then we may have a totally reactionary judiciary…)
There was other good news. Not only did a number of statehouses and state legislatures turn blue, there were impressive victories for good-government state-level initiatives. Florida’s was probably the most significant; despite the clear racism that characterized the governor’s race, felon enfranchisement won soundly, reversing a Jim Crow law that kept a million and a half people from exercising their franchise.
North Carolina elected a civil rights crusader to their Supreme Court, a result that almost certainly dooms the blatant gerrymandering that has benefitted the GOP in that state.
In what Daily Kos called “a hugely positive development for voting rights,” Michigan voters approved several critical measures to make voting easier and elections more secure: automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration, removal of the absentee excuse requirement, and others.
Missouri also passed important reforms that will make voting and redistricting fairer.
And especially satisfying, voter-suppression guru and all-around jerk Kris Kobach lost his race for governor of deep-red Kansas.
All that said, the election also made America’s divisions too clear to miss. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post,
We are becoming a more divided country, 77 percent of respondents said in the exit polls. But the truth is we are not evenly divided. A party that has alienated women, nonwhites, suburbanites, urbanites, Midwesterners, Northeasterners, the college-educated and all but the over-65 demographic set has dim prospects for 2020.
What that (entirely accurate) recitation omits, however, is the geography and impact of the massive divide between urban and rural Americans. As one progressive writer tweeted, Democrats are getting trounced outside of metropolitan areas. “The consistent pattern you’re seeing is that Republicans are consolidating control of rural white America.”
Combining the geography of America’s political divide with the constitutional advantages enjoyed by small states and rural residents gives rural voters a disproportionate advantage over their far more numerous urban and suburban countrymen. (We’ve seen this operate in Indiana for decades.) The result of that reality, together with the hard-ball tactics employed by the GOP–gerrymandering, vote suppression, and increasingly unapologetic resort to blatant racism–means that the U.S. has had minority rule for some time.
That being the case, the results of the midterm elections leave us with significant–even existential–questions: will the huge and welcome increase in civic engagement last? Will the blue majority of Americans be willing to do the hard work needed to build upon the progress made in the midterms? Can we establish a national nonpartisan agency to administer the vote, so that no future Brian Kemp can rig state systems or engage in the brazen, appalling and unethical behavior that characterized the election in Georgia?
And what will we do–what should we do–to bridge the abyss between the urban and rural Americans who currently occupy incommensurate realities?