The triumph of partisanship

Two forces triumphed on Election Day — Democrats and partisanship.

Tuesday brought a broad and deep victory for Democrats, as well as a repudiation of President Trump and his Republican Congress.

When all the votes are counted, Democrats will have picked up 35 or more House seats, gained a net of at least seven governorships, taken control of eight additional state legislative chambers and flipped more than 380 state legislative seats.

The exit polls reveal that almost every demographic segment moved toward the Democrats, as compared to their House vote in 2016.

Women increased their support for Democrats by 5 points, but men moved to the Democrats by 4 points.

Nonwhites shifted toward Democrats by 2 points, whites by 6 points.

White college graduates boosted their support for Democrats by 9 points, but the Democratic vote jumped 6 points over 2016 among noncollege whites.

Suburbs moved to the Democrats by 4 points, equaling the movement in urban areas, while rural areas shifted an even greater 7 points.

Independents boosted their support for Democrats by 9 points.

“Alas,” you respond, “but what about the Senate?”

In a year where the map imposed horrific burdens on Democrats, the party will likely lose a net of just one or two seats.

And while those wonderful defeated Democrats did worse than they had 6 years ago, they all substantially outperformed Donald Trump’s showing in their states.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp‘s (D-N.D.) margin was 25 points better than Trump’s in North Dakota, while Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) bested Trump’s margin by 13 points in their states.

Herein lies the second great “victory” of 2018 — the triumph of partisanship.

The trend’s been clearly visible for some years, but this cycle it came to fruition.

In the 1990 midterms, 23 percent of Republican voters cast ballots for the Democratic candidate while 21 percent of Democrats voted Republican.

In 2018, just 6 percent of GOPers and 4 percent of Democrats voted for the other party’s candidate.
Those national House vote numbers can obscure the tide, however.

When Heitkamp won by a point six years ago, there was no exit poll, but Mitt Romney won the state by 19 points, so about that many Romney voters split their ticket to support Heitkamp. This year, just 6 percent of Republicans and 8 percent of Trump voters crossed the partisan line.

In Missouri, 15 percent of GOPers voted for McCaskill in 2012, but this year less than half as many did so, and the story was similar in Indiana.

What about Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)? They seemed to keep their heads above the red tide in their states.

GOP support for both shrunk in 2018.

Tester won because there are fewer Republicans and more independents in Montana this year than the last time he ran.

West Virginia presents a somewhat different story.

There was no 2012 exit poll in the state, but Manchin prevailed by a 25-point margin. This year, his margin was slashed to just 3 points.

As governor, and during eight years in the Senate, Manchin made clear the lengths he will go to assert his independence, famously shooting the Democratic cap-and-trade bill in his last campaign, then voting with Trump more often than any other Democrat in the Senate, including supporting Brett Kavanaugh‘s accession to the Supreme Court.

And all this in a state where partisan identities (though not ideological proclivities) were evenly balanced on Election Day.

Partisanship has long been our most important political identity. Until recently, however, appealing personalities and good works could enable candidates to escape its gravitational pull.

That partisan gravity has now become Jupiter-like, 2.4 times what it is on earth, weighing down federal candidates, except in the rarest of circumstances or the most evenly balanced of states.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as President of the American Association of Political Consultants.

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