SCOTT: Democrats shouldn’t be overconfident in 2018

Democrats have to be aware of several factors that could lead to another Republican upset

op-DemocraticLeadersCongress-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

If the current Democratic continues falling — liberals should be worried about their ability to win control of either chamber.

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During the 2016 election, Donald Trump had very low approval ratings, polling showed Democrats with a huge advantage for the upcoming election and media outlets like The New York Times were asking “What Are the Chances That Democrats Retake the House?” Claims made about the 2018 election look remarkably similar to those made in the run-up to the 2016 election, and that should cause Democrats to be wary. In 2016, Democrats — and many Americans generally — thought Trump would not win, but he beat the odds and Republicans could quite possibly do it again. As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Democrats have to be aware of several factors that could lead to another Republican upset.

Perhaps the most substantial obstacle Democrats have to overcome is the partisan bias in the congressional map. According to FiveThirtyEight, Republican bias in the House of Representatives is at a historic high as a result of partisan gerrymandering. Since Congressional districts are generally drawn by the majority party in each state’s legislature, district maps that minimize the number of seats the minority party can win in upcoming elections. While there are some restrictions regarding racial and population disparities, there is no prevailing, nationwide prohibition on partisan redistricting efforts. Given that Republicans have complete control of the state government in 26 states — compared to just six states for Democrats — partisan gerrymandering will obstruct Democrats’ path to a majority in the House.

FiveThirtyEight also points out that there is a severe Republican bias in the Senate stemming from the geographic strongholds of each party, despite the fact that it cannot be gerrymandered. While Democrats garner most of their support from highly populated areas, Republicans are bolstered by states with low population densities. This greatly helps Republicans because, in the Senate, population is not a factor. California, with a population of over 37 million, gets the same number of senators that Wyoming receives with a population less than 564,000.  Republicans are so dominant in low-population states that they don’t need to win any of the traditional swing states to win a Senate majority.

In addition, Republicans will most likely recover from some of their more controversial acts this term including their attempt to repeal ObamaCare, the passage of a tax reform bill and their financial support of Roy Moore in his ill-fated senatorial bid. These actions may have initially damaged Republicans’ ability to keep full control of the government, but in the next nine months, I would expect Republicans to avoid any overly provocative issues and instead focus on ones that are more bipartisan, such as infrastructure spending. Both Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump have sought to create a bipartisan tone for 2018. If they succeed, they would likely lessen any electoral blow they may receive in the midterms by bringing some dissatisfied Republicans back into the GOP fold. Since the beginning of the year, the Democratic lead in the generic congressional ballot, has already decreased from 13 percentage points to about 8.5. This could be occurring because Republicans are not currently pushing any highly-publicized and unpopular bills through Congress, but it could also be the result of a more unifying tone that could last for the remainder of the year. If the current Democratic lead is the new normal — or if it continues falling — liberals should be worried about their ability to win control of either chamber.

The final reason Democrats should not be so sure of victory in the upcoming elections is because we are still nine months away from Election Day. It is possible that the conditions of this country will be very different in November compared to the circumstances we are presently living in. A series of favorable events for the GOP before Election Day would immensely improve their chances of maintaining control of Congress. If, for example, Republicans are able to pass immigration reform, Robert Mueller absolves Trump of criminal wrongdoing and the economy is fundamentally strong when voters go to the polls — none of which are inconceivable — it would not be surprising to see Republicans keep Congress.

Democrats do have reasons to be hopeful for the upcoming election. These include generally good polling numbers, great results in recent special elections, a mass exodus of Republican incumbents and a criminal investigation concerned with Trump’s administration. However, for the reasons mentioned above, they should not count their chickens before they hatch. 

Gavin Scott is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com. 

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