The 2018 Election: Where Does It Stand Historically?

Most of the outcomes of the races of 2018 have been determined, and there has been a Democratic gain of 32 seats in the House so far with them leading in 5 undetermined races, giving them the majority. So far, the Democrats won 21 out of 38 tossups and are on track to win more. The Republicans so far have expanded their majority by three, but the outcome of the Arizona Senate race is still unknown and the Florida Senate race, of which Rick Scott currently has an approximately 12,500 vote lead, will undergo a recount. If both should happen to go in the direction of the Democrats, Republican Senate gains go down to one. The confirmed Democrat gain in the chamber was Rep. Jacky Rosen’s win over Nevada’s Dean Heller. So far, the Democrats have won three of the eight races labeled tossups by RCP. Democrats are keen to call this a wave, but Republicans want to downplay Democratic gains. The gubernatorial races shifted seven states to Democratic chief executives. Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin (fourth time’s a charm against Scott Walker) saw a flip to Democrat, while Alaska flipped from Independent to Republican. Republicans, to their delight, unexpectedly kept Iowa and Ohio in their column. Florida and Georgia are still disputed, but the Republican is ahead in both. Of the 12 races labeled tossup by RCP, Democrats have won five so far.

How does the midterm compare to other elections? For the purposes of my micro-study, the wins of the opposing party go back to 1914, the first midterm in which senators were elected by popular vote. Midterm performance in the House peaked in 1922, when the Democrats won 76 seats from the Republicans but were still unable to win the chamber, as Republicans had won a supermajority in the 1920 election. The worst performance from the opposing party was in 1934, when the GOP lost 9 seats. The best performance from a party in winning Senate seats in a midterm was in 1958, when the Democrats won 12 seats from Republicans, setting the stage for a wave of liberal legislation in the 1960s. The worst performance was again in 1934, when the GOP lost 10 seats. This makes for an average gain of 30 seats in the House and 4 seats in the Senate. By this standard, the Democrats had a slightly better than average midterm election in the House (but their best since the Watergate midterms) and had the second worst midterm performance in the Senate in their party’s history, with their worst being the loss of 4 Senate seats in the 1970 election.

As far as midterms go, this was a mixed bag for Democrats. While they can tout their suburban victories and their slightly better than average historical performance in the House as a backlash against Trump, it is tempered by loss in the Senate that seems at least partly attributable to the antics of the Democrats during the Kavanaugh hearings, antagonizing red state voters to Democratic senators that voted against his nomination. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the only Democrat to vote for Kavanaugh, won reelection by a little more than three points. It is clear that a no vote could have easily ended his career in the blood red state of West Virginia. The Democrats also didn’t win as many gubernatorial races as they were hoping to this year, as they were hoping to gain Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Ohio. Overall? It was a good, but not a great night for Democrats. The wave was partial, as it swept through the suburbs, but rural red areas largely only grew more so.

From a historical perspective, this race had some historical firsts and landmark events:

Whether Republican Martha McSally or Democrat Kyrsten Sinema wins in Arizona, they will be the state’s first female senator. If Sinema wins, she’ll be the first Democrat to be elected to the Senate from that state in 30 years as well as the first openly bisexual senator.

Colorado’s Democratic Rep. Jared Polis is the first openly gay man to be elected governor of a state.

Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes, elected to the 5th district, is the first black woman to be elected to Congress from the state.

If Rick Scott’s victory in Florida holds on recount, it will be the first time since 1875 that Florida has two Republican senators.

Georgia’s 6th district was won by Democrat Lucy McBath. This district was once represented by Republican Newt Gingrich and the last Democrat to win this district was John Flynt in 1976. McBath is black and the mother of murder victim Jordan Davis while Flynt had staunchly opposed civil rights legislation and signed the Southern Manifesto. Much has changed in 42 years.

Illinois’ 6th district was won by Democrat Sean Casten. This Chicago suburban district was once represented by the man responsible for the Hyde Amendment, Republican Henry Hyde. This area had been represented by Republicans for over 80 years.

Democrats Sharice Davids of Kansas’ 3rd district and Debra Haaland of New Mexico’s 1st district are the first two American Indian women elected to Congress.

Maine is the first state in the nation to have ranked-choice elections.

Massachusetts’ Democrat Ayanna Pressley of the 7th district is the first black woman elected to Congress from the state.

Michigan’s 13th district was won by Democrat Rashida Tlaib. She is one of two of the first Muslim women as well as the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress.

Minnesota’s 3rd district was won by Democrat Dean Phillips. The last Democrat to win this district was Roy Wier in 1958.

Minnesota’s 5th district was won by Democrat Ilhan Omar. She is the first Somali American to win a seat in Congress as well as one of the first two Muslim women to do so.

Four of Minnesota’s congressional districts flipped parties. Republicans lost reelection in the 2nd and 3rd but won open seats in the 1st and 8th. The last time so many districts flipped was in 1938.

New Jersey is on track to have only one Republican representing the state in the House. The last time the Republican delegation got such a bad drubbing it was reduced to one was in the 1912 election.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th district, aged 29, is the youngest woman elected to Congress.

The GOP lost South Carolina’s 1st district to Democrat Joe Cunningham. The last Democrat to win the seat was Mendel J. Davis in 1978.

Republican Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s first female governor.

Republican Marsha Blackburn is Tennessee’s first female senator.

Texas’s 7th district was won by Democrat Lizzie Fletcher. This district was once represented by George H.W. Bush and the last time a Democrat won the Houston suburbs that comprise this district was in 1964, which was also the last time Texas sent an all-Democrat House delegation to Congress.

Virginia’s 7th district, which had once been represented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was won by Democrat Abigail Spanberger. The last Democrat to win that seat was John O. Marsh (who later served as President Reagan’s Secretary of the Army) in 1968.

Virginia’s 10th district, long a Republican suburban enclave, elected Democrat Jennifer Wexton. The last Democrat to win that seat was Joseph Fisher in 1978.

Democrats Veronica Escobar of the 16th district and Sylvia Garcia of the 29th district were the first Latinas to win election to Congress from Texas.

Present data for the election from



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