IT’S OVER. NOW WHAT?
A quick word about last night’s election, what we’ve learned, and what you can expect as a result. We’ll try to keep this fast.
First, some signs that the nation’s brutal polarization is easing. Maybe just a little. Last night, voters seem to have cared as much about the players on the field as the color of their jerseys.
Here’s a fact: conventional wisdom in politics can become obsolete very quickly. And one of the planks of that wisdom – that America is a hopelessly divided country where most people show up to the polls in order to vote AGAINST the other party… and not for any policies in particular – now seems out of date.
To illustrate, here is a small sampling of how voters split hairs to make their choices on Tuesday:
- Kansas chose Republicans to represent 3 out of 4 Congressional districts but re-elected a Democratic governor.
- In Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) looks to be headed back to Washington, while Democratic Governor Tony Evers is headed back to Madison
- In Ohio, Republicans JD Vance and Mike DeWine swept the top-of-ticket contests for Senate and Governor, but Democrats ran-the-table on the state’s 3 competitive House districts
- In New York, the opposite: Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) won a full term, but the state’s Congressional delegation will likely be light 3 Democrats in January
- In Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul (R) cruised to re-election while a ballot initiative to ban abortion failed
- And in Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp (R) won his re-election by 8 points, while Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) looks to be on pace to win narrowly on the Senate side
This leads to a second point worth making: voters really know their stuff. They aren’t the idiots that trite, poll-tested talking points think they are, and for better or worse, we’re fully in an era where politics is also a cultural arena.
We started this project 4 years ago in part because we believed that: that polls and opinion pages were not picking up on how technology, sports, and pop-culture were influencing government. Indeed, this was a betting opportunity!
Yesterday’s results are a vindication.
Because by any quantitative or qualitative measurement, people are participating in politics at heights we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. That is the force of culture: treating pols like AOC & Trump as if they’re rock stars and obsessing over electoral data the way that fantasy sports people do on NFL Sundays.
Just look at the raw numbers. They’re astounding. A few to highlight:
- No one is calling it officially, but all evidence suggests that this election will either set a record for midterm turnout or come close to 2018’s high. States with tightly contested races like Ohio, Georgia, and Arizona are on track to break records, and other large states, like Michigan and New York, aren’t far off the pace.
- Another way to read the numbers: the proportion of the population that’s voting in traditionally sleepy midterms, like yesterday’s, is now equal to what used to be par for a presidential campaign. I’ll put a face on it: this year’s turnout will probably land close to the likes of Bush vs. Gore, Clinton vs. Dole, and George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis. Wow.
- The trend of off-the-chart participation gets wider from there, because presidential elections are getting much larger too. Remember 2020? Trump vs Biden? That election set the all-time record for turnout, or if you prefer a different formula, was a close second to Kennedy vs. Nixon. Nothing else even comes close.
And since this is America, let’s take in how much money is being spent too:
- OpenSecrets, the go-to source on political spending, estimates that $8.9B of donor cash was incinerated this cycle
- In 2008, during Obama’s “celebrity” run — the number was $2.5B
So people are voting with their wallets too.
What we can observe is that each of the last 3 elections either set records for participation or came very close. Bulging participation is the new norm.
Bringing all this together, here’s what we have in America:
- The most engaged electorate in recorded history, which is…
- Exercising a high degree of discernment about who they vote for
So… huge turnout + a return of ticket splitting. Who saw that coming?
The Upshot: People aren’t just showing up, they’re showing up with complex opinions of what they want from their government.
And that’s how you get a result as mixed as last night’s – one where we’ll probably see a small GOP majority in the House and probably a Democratic majority in the Senate.
Pundits and predictors were absolutely baffled by this election from the start. Count us among them.
We and they struggled to understand what exactly was happening in the country, as voters gave President Biden failing grades but refused to warm to Republicans in any measurable way. What gives? Well, now we know: the old truism is false. People are no longer robots going to to “vote red” or “act blue.” They’re doing their homework and making their own choices. Or at least they are at a greater rate than we’ve seen in a while.
Based on that, here are some thoughts worth exploring:
- If voters are using a lot of discretion when they make their choices – might this be a bad thing for Republicans? Lately, the GOP formula has been to oppose anything Democrats like (including traditional GOP priorities, like free trade and stopping Russia) and to be for anything that Donald Trump supports. It seems like voters want more specificity than that
- Does money matter like it used to? The cost of winning national elections is now in the billions of dollars. But is that doing anything?
- There is obviously a large slice of the electorate that wants actual information about politics and is tuned-out to the Super PAC saturation bombing of campaign TV ads. I.E., they don’t care about any of the stuff that donor cash can buy.
- Politicians who take risks and communicate in their own voice, rather than relying on tinny, paid media, will have an upper hand.-
- Is Donald Trump still viable? His slate of candidates took an absolute beatdown last night. Expect his “big announcement” next week to be delayed.
Don’t you love that things are always changing?
Would anyone have believed you 10 years ago if you said that Florida would be an R+20 state and the path to Democratic victory would go through ruby-red Arizona and Georgia?
A lot of the despair about our politics exists on a false premise: that nothing ever changes. But, with this election as recent evidence, we can again remind ourselves why this is absolutely untrue. Everything is always changing in America. That is our nation’s strength.
So, regardless of who you voted for, rejoice. The Republican carries on. It’s a little bit different than it was yesterday, but I suspect you’ll like it just the same.