Our take: xenophobia backfired
Republican pollster David Winston writes an important midterm post-mortem in Roll Call. Entitled “2018 Midterms: A Missed Opportunity for Republicans,” Winston argues that the GOP’s fatal mistake was to focus on immigration and the caravan — an issue that drove voters in the middle away from Republican candidates — rather than focusing on the growing strength of the economy, an issue that appealed to those same voters.
The column is excerpted below and available online in full here.
We’ve assessed the 2018 campaign that began and ended with the fight for the election narrative. Our conclusion: This was not a base election. Independents decided the outcome, breaking for Democrats by 12 points.
The Friday before the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans were handed a gift in the form of the November monthly jobs report…it was a clear sign that Republicans’ center-right economic policies were moving the economy forward, affecting not just job growth, but finally wage growth as well. And the timing couldn’t have been better, coming just four days before the election.If a majority of voters had understood that the tax cut bill was going to lower taxes for them, this would have decisively helped Republicans.
This moment was potentially the culmination of the fight for the narrative of the election. Democrats had been focused on the issue of health care most of the year. Since passage of the tax cut bill, Republicans had made some efforts to create a focus on the economy, but as the election drew near, they found themselves embroiled in less positive issues — immigration and the caravan story.
That bifurcation diminished the impact of the “good news” economic report that should have dominated the final days of the campaign. Instead, Republicans, as they did throughout the campaign, drowned out the economic message.
… Republicans lost late deciders by a 12-point margin….the combination of the immigration and the caravan issues dominated the GOP economic message voters heard by a 2:1 margin.
Our analysis [based on an Election Night poll conducted by the firm] concludes: “The post-election survey makes a strong case that voters want solutions designed to help people still living paycheck to paycheck. Voters’ top four issues/news stories related to household and personal economics along with health care, but they were frustrated by campaign discourse that centered on the respective party bases and their issues. And we know that neither party’s bases are large enough to form a winning majority coalition.”