The broad backlash to the GOP’s reliance on racism and xenophobia was stronger than Trump’s shameless turnout strategy
Trump’s despicable closing argument was intended to mobilize Republican voters in hopes of hanging onto power. It was cynical and dangerous. But was it effective?
Sure, Trump’s toxic stew of mendacity and racial panic increased Republican turnout and helped Republicans flip a small number of Senate seats in Trump states. But there’s a larger frame to this drama: Trump’s divisive demagoguery produced a broad backlash effect that swept many Democrats to victory, defeated numerous anti-immigrant Republicans, and consolidated public support for pro-immigrant policies.
Here are some of the key factors and findings that support this view:
Trump’s effort to make 2018 a referendum on immigration mostly didn’t work.
- Trump demonized immigrants and Democrats in an effort to mobilize his voters, peel off independents and depress Democratic turnout. If it had worked, Republicans would have swept most of the Senate races in Trump states, held the House and limited damage in state and local races. Mostly, it didn’t work.
- Democrats won back the House of Representatives with their largest majority in forty years. Democrats are on track to flip between 35 and 40 House seats. Democrats won the popular vote in the House races by 9 million votes, a whopping 8% margin. Nate Silver of 538 conducted an analysis of the House popular vote, projected it onto the 2020 presidential map, and found it equates to 314 electoral votes for Democrats and 224 for the GOP.
- Democrats flipped at least seven governors’ mansions, and won three governorships in “blue wall” states that Trump won in 2016 (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania).
- Democrats won back majorities in at least seven state legislative chambers; and Democrats flipped more than 330 state legislative seats.
- In the Senate, Democrats hung on in five Trump states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia Wisconsin, and Montana; flipped Nevada; have a shot at flipping Arizona and Florida, depending on final tallies; and lost in Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri.
Xenophobia backfired on numerous anti-immigrant Republican candidates.
- Kris Kobach, a leading architect of the nativist movement in America, ran for governor of ruby red Kansas and lost by nearly 5%.
- Lou Barletta, a former Mayor of Hazleton who rose to prominence as a fierce anti-immigrant hawk, ran for Senator in Pennsylvania with the support of Trump and was crushed by 14%.
- Corey Stewart ran for the Senate in Virginia as an anti-immigrant firebrand and lost by 15%.
- In House races, a long list of anti-immigrant Republicans, all of whom aired racist and xenophobic ads, went down to defeat: Barbara Comstock (VA-10); Dave Brat (VA-07); Kevin Yoder (KS-03); Pete Sessions (TX-32); John Faso (NY-19); Claudia Tenney (NY-22); Rod Blum (IA-01); John Chrin (PA-08); Lea Marquez Peterson (AZ-02); Christopher Peters (IA-03); Jason Lewis (MN-02); Manny Santos (CT-05); Eddie Edwards (NH-01); Wendy Rogers (AZ-01); Rudy Peters (CA-15); Lena Epstein (MI-11); Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48); Danny Tarkanian (NV-03); John McCann (NJ-05); Jay Webber (NJ-11); Katie Arrington (SC-01); and John Culberson (TX-07). Hardliner Steve King in Iowa-04 survived in a very conservative district by a hair.
- In Gubernatorial races, the following leaned on xenophobia in their campaigns and lost: Adam Laxalt (NV); Walker Stapleton (CO); Bill Schuette (MI); Jeff Johnson (MN); Scott Walker (WI); Scott Wagner (PA).
- Nativism was directly on the ballot in Oregon. Measure 105, the anti-sanctuary ballot initiative backed by the nativist group FAIR, went down to defeat by a margin of 63-37%.
The New American electorate turned out and voted overwhelmingly for Democrats.
- A majority coalition of people of color, young people and educated white voters drove the positive election results for Democrats. According to the American Election Eve poll, a national survey of 70 House battleground districts, found that Democrats won:
- Determining precise turnout levels broken down by demographic category will require further analysis, but preliminary reports indicate significant increases. According to the New York Times, overall turnout in the House races totalled an estimated 114 million, shattering the turnout of 83 million in 2014.
- Among youth, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) estimates the highest 18-29 turnout rate in a midterm since they voting age was lowered: 31 percent of eligible voters, up from 21 percent in 2014. Regarding Texas youth, the Houston Chronicle noted, “Turnout among young voters — ages 18 to 29 — is on track to be the highest for a midterm in more than three decades.”
America remains a strongly pro-immigrant country.
- Yesterday, Politico reported on new polling from ALG Research which found that 66 percent of voters opposed Trump’s family separation policy and 67 percent supported comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
- The American Election Eve battleground congressional poll found that the Dream Act is supported 68-21% margin in competitive districts: 64-26% among whites; 85-9% among Latinos; 81-7% among black voters; and 72-16% among AAPI voters.
- The American Election Eve poll sought to get more precise about immigration as a priority. In the poll, voters rated healthcare (34%) and the economy/jobs (21%) as their most important issues. On immigration, they were given two options, and it turned out that 16% chose “border security” and 16% chose “immigration reform/DACA.” This finding challenges the assumption that immigration is an issue that is only a priority among Republicans.
- When the same poll asked a forced choice question: “During the 2018 election candidates said a lot of different things about immigration. Which statement on immigration do you agree with more? A) America has too many illegal immigrants, they hurt the economy, bring crime and gang violence to our cities. We have to crack down on illegal immigration.” Or B) Immigrants just want to provide a better life for their families, just like you and me. I support legislation to make America more welcoming to immigrants.” Results: Option A 42%; Option B 55%. This suggests a majority of Americans are pro-immigrant, but a substantial minority are sympathetic to Trump’s framing.
- However, the American Election Eve poll also found that there is strong support for the Democratic response to Trump’s framing. Respondents in competitive House districts were asked whether they agree or not with the following statement: “In 2018, many Republicans made attacks on immigrants’ part of their campaigns. It’s obvious we need to reform our immigration policies but calling immigrants rapists and gang members accomplishes nothing. Congress should work together on bipartisan immigration reform and put the issue to rest, and address important issues like improving wages, lowering the cost of healthcare so we have more money in our pockets.” An overwhelming 86-11% agreed with the statement, which captures the message adopted by most Democratic candidates.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
The dust is settling and whatever water metaphor you prefer, it’s clear that immigrants and immigration fared well — despite being subjected to an unprecedented campaign by the President of the United States to stoke fear and incite racial panic. The public mostly rejected Trump’s rhetoric and defeated many of the GOP candidates who followed his lead. The party that supports immigrants made enormous advances, as Democrats won the popular vote, took back the House of Representatives, rebuilt the Blue Wall in the Midwest, won back multiple governorships, gained the majority in multiple state legislatures, and flipped hundreds of state legislative seats. And Latino and AAPI voters, an imprecise but important proxy for the directly affected, showed up in big numbers and voting overwhelmingly for Democrats and against Republicans. All in all, we are well-positioned for the next Congress and the next election.