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Horowitz: Mid-Term Voters Apply Brakes to Trump Presidency

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Donald Trump

Voters in last week’s mid-term elections sent President Trump a loud wake call-one judging by his contentious and un-presidential performance since the election, he predictably refuses to hear.  When it's all said and done, Democrats will pick up about 38 seats in the House of Representatives, their biggest win since the post-Watergate election of 1974.   Nationally, Democratic House candidates ran about 7% points ahead of Republican candidates, a decisive margin. 

 The Democrats also picked up 7 Governor’s seats and about 300 state legislative ones, putting the party in a much stronger position for the next round of redistricting.  The Republican pick up of what is likely to be 2 US Senate seats, given the fact that the overwhelming majority of the competitive races were in solid Red States, does not change the fact that voters delivered a resounding negative verdict on the first two years of the Trump Presidency.  

Every mid-term election is in large measure a referendum on the incumbent president and this one was even more so.  As Ron Brownstein notes in a post-election analysis column, “…the connection between attitudes about the president’s performance and the House vote on Tuesday night was the highest recorded in exit polls since at least 1982.”  Fifty-four percent of people who cast their vote this past Tuesday disapproved of the president’s job performance and 90% of them voted Democratic. Similarly, of the 45% of voters who approved of the president, 88% voted Republican. 

The Democratic House pick-ups, mainly occurring in suburban districts throughout the nation, were fueled by white college graduates who wanted a check on the president.  Democrats won 53% of white college graduates, a 13% increase from the 2014 mid-terms.  While there was some increase of support among non-college whites for Democratic candidates in key Midwest battlegrounds, nationally the Democrats only did a little better in this sub-group which remains a solid base for Trump and other Republican candidates.  

Additionally, the Democrats performed even better with some of their base sub-groups than they have in recent elections. Latinos, for example, came out in large numbers and favored Democratic House candidates by 40 percentage points,69% to 29%.    More than 2-out-of-3 young voters, between the ages of 18 and 29 also favored Democratic candidates.

This resounding rejection of President Trump happened despite the fact that nearly 7-out-of-10 voters believed that the economy is good. In fact, most of the Democratic pickups occurred in House districts where the economic conditions well-exceed the national average.  These voters are saying no to the president’s efforts to divide us with racially tinged appeals, his over-the-top personal attacks on political opponents and the media, and his decidedly unpresidential demeanor and behavior.

President Trump and Republicans candidates paid dearly for their efforts to do away with Obamacare, including protections for people with pre-conditions. Healthcare was the most important issue to mid-term voters, according to the Exit Polls.  Democratic candidates reaped big dividends from their disciplined and focused message on health care, greatly assisted by the Trump Administration’s ill-advised and politically tone-deaf decision to not defend in court a suit arguing that the pre-condition protections component of Obamacare was unconstitutional.

Poor performance in the mid-terms does not mean that presidents cannot be re-elected--if they learn from the results. Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Reagan, for example. made mid-course adjustments that were key contributing factors to their re-elections.  But that takes doing some reflection and grasping hard cold political reality. So far, there is little evidence of President Trump’s capacity or willingness to do so.

 But most importantly, by voting to put Democrats in control of the House of the Representatives, Americans have put a much-needed check on the reckless actions and behavior of the president.  And “we the people” did so by coming out to vote in numbers that well-surpassed recent mid-terms. This will be the highest voting mid-term in the past 50 years. 

No matter how much President Trump may not want to accept it, the new political reality in Washington will be driven home to him again and again when Congress returns in January-- a new political reality delivered courtesy of the American people.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island. 


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