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Our Take on the 2018 Elections

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Xenophobia Mostly Backfires, People of Color Show Up, and, Despite Trump’s Racist Attacks, Immigration and Pro-Immigrant Candidates Fare Well

The 2018 results are mostly in, and the debate over what it all means has begun in earnest. Here are our initial takeaways:

  • Trump and Trumpism suffered a significant setback: Republicans lost the House of Representatives due to a swing of approximately 35 seats; at least seven governors’ races (Nevada, Wisconsin, Maine, New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan); seven state legislative chambers and over 300 state legislative races. Democrats won the popular vote in the Senate races by approximately 12% and in the House by approximately 7%.
  • Leading anti-immigrant candidates lost big: Kris Kobach, a notorious nativist, who ended his campaign by invoking the caravan, lost in ruby red Kansas. In Virginia, Corey Stewart lost his Senate bid while Barbara Comstock, Dave Brat and Scott Taylor lost their House seats, after all of them made their hardline approach to immigration central to their campaigns. Just some of the other Republicans who stoked fear and followed Trump, and then lost: Senator Dean Heller (NV); Gubernatorial candidates Adam Laxalt (NV); Walker Stapleton (CO); Bill Schuette (MI); Jeff Johnson (MN); Scott Walker (WI); Scott Wagner (PA); House candidates 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); John Culberson (TX-07). Steve King in Iowa-4 survived in a very conservative district by a hair.
  • The House flipped – and many Democratic candidates facing ugly anti-immigration attacks won: It is forecasted that the final margin will be approximately 230 House Democrats and 205 House Republicans: a Democratic pickup of 35 seats. Roughly half came from so-called Clinton districts, with the other half from Trump districts. This is a huge victory for Democrats, and it will allow for oversight on the Trump administration and to hold them accountable, returning some checks and balances to our democratic institutions. Many Democratic candidates facing ugly immigration attack ads had a good night: As pollster Nick Gourevitch tweeted: “The race-baiting, anti-immigrant, caravan strategy is looking like a huge fail in the House. CLF & NRCC ran nasty ads against Sharice Davids (KS-03), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Cindy Axne (IA-03). All Dem wins.”
  • Immigrant advocates won key local races and referenda: In Oregon, the FAIR-backed anti-immigrant ballot – Question 105 – that would have ended the state’s longstanding sanctuary policies and forced police to collaborate with Trump’s deportation force, lost by a 63-37% margin. In Los Angeles, Alex Villanueva upset Sheriff Jim McDonnell due to the incumbent’s opposition to California’s state sanctuary law, the California Values Act. In Wake County, North Carolina, longtime sheriff Donnie Harrison, one of the nation’s most ICE-friendly law enforcement officials, was defeated by challenge Gerald Baker, who promised to limit cooperation.
  • Election Eve polling confirms: people of color showed up and led the push in a progressive direction: A coalition of groups came together to sponsor Election Eve polling that accurately captures the behavior and motivations of voters of color (in stark contrast to the methodologically defective and historically inaccurate exit polls). Here is the conclusion of lead researcher Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions: “Latino, Black, Native American, and AAPI voters all agree that Trump has created an environment of hostility and racism that is directed towards immigrants and minorities, and this is mobilizing people to take action. Voters of color in particular are taking things into their own hands, reporting high rates of “self-mobilization” and encouraging their friends and family to vote.  Rather than waiting on campaigns to knock on their doors, many immigrant and minority voters are seizing the moment and mobilizing themselves, their families, and their communities. Just like we saw on Election Day in Virginia 2017, the headline of the 2018 election will be that a majority of voters do not buy racist attacks on immigrants. Instead, anti-immigrant fear mongering has backfired on Republicans and cost them the House of Representatives.”
  • Immigration remains popular with the majority of Americans and mobilizing for progressives: As Ted Hesson of Politico reports, “A survey released today argued that President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda isn’t popular with voters. The survey, by the Democratic polling firm ALG Research, found that 66 percent of voters opposed Trump’s family separation policy, which provoked broad outrage in the spring. By contrast, nearly the same proportion — 67 percent — supported comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, according to the researchers, who surveyed 1,200 likely voters. The report came as voters across the country cast ballots in midterm elections. Republican voters consider immigration a top issue, and Trump moved to tap into that energy by offering a range of hard-line policy proposals in recent weeks. The data released today suggested Trump’s immigration focus could motivate Democratic voters to go to the polls. Researchers found 52 percent of Democrats considered Trump’s immigration policies an important factor in the election — nearly on par with 58 percent of Republicans who felt the same way. ‘In other words, Trump’s rhetoric may inflame elements of his base, but it also inflames Democrats,’ the researchers wrote.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Trump and the GOP closed the 2018 cycle with a desperate and dangerous argument. They stoked fear, spread lies and incited racial panic among their hardcore base. But this unprecedented mix of mendacity and racism mostly did not work. Yes, Trump held his superfans in deep red states and districts. But the Trump and Republican reliance on xenophobia mostly backfired. A majority coalition of people of color, young people and suburban whites won the popular vote, swept the Democrats into control of the House of Representatives, rebuilt the ‘Blue Wall’ by winning governorships in states that Trump won in 2016 – such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – and defeated many of the most anti-immigrant candidates, from Kris Kobach in Kansas to Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania to Corey Stewart and David Brat in Virginia to Dana Rohrabacher in California. Add the huge advances in local races and in contests for control of state legislatures, and 2018 was something like a blue wave. The American people, led by people of color, turned out in huge numbers to vote against hate and racism and for a tolerant and welcoming country. This coalition is now in strong shape to compete in 2020.”