What Happens When Dozens Of Wave-Year Freshmen Join The House?

It might be hard to tell at the moment, but there are freshmen Democrats in the House other than New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive women have become the face of the new class in Congress, a total of 64 newly elected Democrats joined Congress this month, each of them with their own platform and political leanings. Yet all of them won their seats in the same wave election that swung at least 40 House seats to the Democrats1 — an election that has media wags wondering if the new Democratic representatives will cause headaches for the old guard.

The data suggests … probably not.

American politics have been inundated by big waves before, and a close look at how those freshmen classes voted may shed light on how today’s wave might affect the government. In 1994, for example, under the banner of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the GOP ushered in a so-called Republican Revolution, swinging Congress 54 seats to the right. In 2010, Republicans did it again, this time powered by the tea party; the GOP picked up 63 seats. But American politics are turbulent. In 2006 and 2008, it was the Democrats’ turn to surf — they picked up 31 and 21 seats those years. While there is no widely accepted definition of a “wave” year, there seems to be some consensus that these four elections were waves, so that’s where I’m going to focus my analysis.

After they were elected, all of these wave-riding freshman representatives actually had to go to work and cast votes. Votes are data, and data, in this case, turns into ideology scores. Specifically, we can use Nokken-Poole ideology scores to see whether wave-year freshmen voted demonstrably differently from their more veteran peers. (This method boils down actual congressional votes into a single dimension, meaning that bigger negative numbers represent more liberal positions and bigger positive numbers represent more conservative positions.)

With a possible exception of Republicans elected in 2010, when the tea party was big, first-year representatives entering Congress in a wave year don’t look all that different from any of the other representatives — they tend to be distributed across the ideology score spectrum in about the same way as their longer-serving peers. That could be good news for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she tries to keep her caucus in line.

But it’s not just the wave-riding freshmen who aren’t that different from the veterans. Freshmen of all classes tend to vote similarly to — or, if anything, slightly to the right of — their party elders. These are the ideological distributions of all freshmen and all non-freshmen from 1994 through 2018.

But what became of these freshmen who rode into Congress on electoral waves? Did those who were re-elected (and, in some cases, re-elected and re-elected and re-elected …) begin to alter their legislative behavior after they’d served for a while? Where could Ocasio-Cortez and her peers end up, ideologically speaking, in a decade’s time, if they follow roughly the same path as those who came before them?

There is some weak evidence that those congresspeople who rode in on recent waves — be they Democrats or Republicans — shifted to the left over time. (For the universe of all congresspeople, there is some evidence that spending more time in Congress means a person takes, on average, a slightly more extreme ideological position.) The Republicans of the class of 1994, for example, became on average more moderate than their fellow congressmen, while the Democrats of the classes of 2006 and 2008 became on average more liberal. Practically speaking, however, these effects appear small, especially when each wave-year class is viewed as an aggregate. The single red and blue lines on the chart below represent the careers of each newly elected member of that year’s wave party, while the thick black lines show a smoothed trend for each class. The members of the wave classes thin out over time and, in some cases, shift their ideologies.

There are a couple of notable outliers clearly visible above. In 1999, Rep. Michael Forbes, who had been a freshman in the Republican Revolution class, announced he was becoming a Democrat. And in 2009, Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith became a Republican while still a freshman — he’d been elected in a Democratic wave just over a year before.

There’s an important caveat to all this: the Nokken-Poole scores are built only on how congresspeople vote. The scores don’t tell us anything about what the congresspeople are voting on, or the ripple effects that freshmen may have on senior members by, for example, threatening to vote as a bloc, introducing legislation the House might not otherwise have considered, or using their public appearances to rile up segments of senior members’ electorates who might not normally contact their representatives. For instance, some pundits have argued that the tea party changed “the very DNA of the GOP.” (Congress has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act many times since 2010, for example, which was one of the main planks of the tea party movement.) Others have argued that Gingrich’s Republican Revolution is linked to “the upheaval now taking place around the globe.” Only time will tell what effects the recent and ongoing blue wave might have. Already, we can see how young left is trying to expand which ideas Democrats are willing to entertain — including, perhaps, remaking the country’s very economic system.

We don’t yet have ideological measures for the freshmen swept into the House on 2018’s wave, of course — they haven’t participated in enough votes in D.C. But if today’s freshmen stick around long enough to become senior statesmen, there are hints here that they may shift the House even further to the left. Cowabunga, dude.



How Red-State Democrats Became An Endangered Species In The Senate

One theme of the 2018 election was that Democratic senators from rural, red states became an endangered breed. Three Democratic senators on deep-red turf6 — Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — lost their seats.7 Two others managed to squeak out wins — Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — but they saw their support shrivel up in many parts of their states.

In the six years since these senators last appeared on the ballot (in 2012), Democratic support has become increasingly confined to America’s metro areas. In their states, which are heavily rural, it’s tough for candidates to win with cities alone — they must appeal to rural voters. These five Democratic incumbents didn’t all manage that; as it has for Democrats nationally, their support deteriorated significantly relative to 2012 in areas outside of cities and suburbs, according to a county-by-county analysis of U.S. Senate results.8

Let’s start in Indiana. After winning by 6 percentage points in 2012, Donnelly lost by 6 points in 2018. Donnelly improved upon his 2012 performance in only three counties — Boone, Hamilton (these two are in the Indianapolis suburbs) and Monroe (home of Bloomington, where the Indiana University flagship campus is located) — and even there, just barely. As you can see in the map below, the size of the circle — which represents the margin of Donnelly’s or his Republican opponent’s win — stays about the same in these counties. In contrast, the red circles in most of Indiana’s rural counties swell in size, representing how most other counties — especially lower-population ones9 — swung far out of Donnelly’s reach. Donnelly’s loss of rural support, coupled with his inability to make up for those losses with more votes in urban areas, sealed his fate.

In Missouri, McCaskill lost by 6 points six years after winning her previous race by 16 — a really robust margin for a Democrat in a state that Mitt Romney simultaneously won by 9 points. But her overperformance in 2012 was thanks, in part, to her opponent, Rep. Todd Akin, who was abandoned by the Republican Party after his “legitimate rape” comments. In 2018, her Republican opponent Josh Hawley was a better candidate than Akin, and McCaskill didn’t outperform her previous vote margin in a single county. She lost the least amount of support in Missouri’s urban areas, particularly St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia (home of the University of Missouri’s main campus). But her margin dropped by huge amounts in less populated counties. In the most severe example, she lost Clark County (population 6,807), in the northeast corner of the state, by 45 points. She won it in 2012 by 16 points — a 61-point swing! McCaskill proved unable to avoid this urban-rural difference despite a concerted effort to appeal to rural voters.

North Dakota’s U.S. Senate margin shifted to Republicans by 12 points — from a 1-point Heitkamp win in 2012 to an 11-point Heitkamp loss in 2018. Re-election was always going to be difficult for Heitkamp in such a red, rural state, but she did worse in 2018 in every single county except three. The one county where she improved the most was Cass County (Fargo), which is by far the most populous county in the state. The other two counties where Heitkamp did better are actually quite low in population: Rolette County and Sioux County. But they are both around 80 percent Native American, a heavily Democratic demographic that may have been especially energized to go to the polls this year because of North Dakota’s new voter-ID law, which made it harder for many people who live on reservations to vote.

Tester’s performance in Montana, however, defies clean categorization. The rural-urban sorting is still there to some degree: Tester improved upon his 2012 performance in 10 counties (including four of the six with populations greater than 50,000 — those containing Bozeman, Butte, Helena and Missoula) and did worse in 46 mostly smaller ones.

But there are exceptions: Tester lost Yellowstone County (Billings), the state’s largest county, by 4 points after winning it by 1 point in 2012. And Tester improved his margin by 8 points in Beaverhead County and 5 points in Madison County, both of which have populations under 10,000.

What probably saved Tester is that he didn’t drop off by as much in sparsely populated counties as other Democratic senators did. In counties with fewer than 20,000 residents, Tester’s average dropoff was 8 percentage points. Donnelly’s was 27 percentage points, Heitkamp’s was 21 points and McCaskill’s was 43 points. As a result, Tester won the state overall by 3.6 points — just a shade worse than his 2012 margin of 3.7 points.

A big part of why Tester triumphed while the other three didn’t is that he appears to have been the only one who maintained his appeal among rural voters. That might be because voters in Montana are significantly more elastic — that is, persuadable — than those in Indiana, Missouri or North Dakota.

Democrats were probably lucky to hold onto the final red state we looked at: West Virginia. Manchin’s 24-point win in 2012 all but vanished in 2018; he won by 3 points. Manchin improved upon his 2012 margin in just one county, Monongalia (Morgantown).10 He more or less held steady in West Virginia’s largest county, Kanawha (Charleston), faring just 3 points worse. Manchin consistently lost ground in the remainder of the state’s mostly sparsely populated counties, including Mingo County, the heart of West Virginia coal county. Once reliably blue, Mingo County leaned 16 points more Republican than West Virginia as a whole in the 2018 Senate election.

Overall, in all five states, there is a clear relationship between the size of a county and how its political preferences changed from 2012 to 2018.

Democrats lost more ground in lower-population counties

The average margin shift from 2012 to 2018 in U.S. Senate races in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, by county population

Average margin shift
Counties by population Indiana Missouri N.D. Montana W. Va.
0-10k people R+25 R+47 R+22 R+9 R+29
10-50k R+25 R+39 R+15 R+5 R+30
50-100k R+13 R+28 R+12 D+1 R+20
100-500k R+9 R+18 D+3 D+5 R+2
500k+ R+2 R+9 N/A N/A N/A

North Dakota, Montana and West Virginia have no counties with more than 500,000 residents.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, ABC News, secretaries of state

As you can see, the smallest counties overwhelmingly lurched toward the Republican. Higher-population counties shifted less dramatically to the right — and even moved toward the Democratic incumbent in some states. Since most people in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana and West Virginia live in lower-density areas, that was a recipe for Republican success. (Montana and West Virginia are exceptions, of course, although Manchin’s support did erode; it’s just that he had such a large cushion from 2012 that he could withstand the sharp dropoff. Tester is the only one who was able to keep rural losses to a minimum, and even then, Montana’s urban and rural areas still diverged to a small degree.) While the combination of lower Democratic support in rural areas and higher Democratic support around cities may help the party in more urbanized states like Texas, it’s a bad trade for them in states like these and may make winning a majority in the Senate, with its small-state bias, more difficult.

California Dominates Among House Democrats. What Does That Mean For The Next Congress?

California is huge — it has 39.5 million residents, making it the largest state in the U.S. by population. As a result, it has by far the most House members — 53 in total. Texas, by comparison, is the second-most-populous state and only has 36 representatives. So it’s not necessarily surprising that California is sending more Democrats to Congress than is any other state — 46 Democratic representatives in the new Congress will be from California. Still, since the end of World War II, the House’s majority party has never had this large a share of its membership come from a single state.

The state that had the most members in a party’s caucus in a given year has always, of course, been one of the more populous states, like New York, Pennsylvania or Texas. But those large states hold a bigger share of the caucus when they’re dominated by a single party, like California is now. For instance, in the 1946 election, Texas elected Democrats to all 21 of its House seats, which amounted to 11 percent of all House Democrats; the party was in the minority that year after a GOP wave. And New York, which had the most representatives before California took over, sometimes had more seats than any other state in both parties’ caucuses, as it did in 1948 and 1960. Back when California was less of a single-party state, it occasionally pulled off the same feat, including as recently as 2006, when it led the Democratic caucus and tied Texas for the lead in the GOP caucus.

Nearly 20 percent of the incoming Democratic caucus will hail from California, and using data primarily from Gary Jacobson’s data set on House elections from 1946 to 2014, I found that no state has ever been responsible for a larger percentage of the majority party’s House caucus during the post-World War II period.14

That said, California’s share of the Democratic caucus has been even larger than it is now — 20.7 percent after 2014 and 20.1 percent after 2016. The catch is that Republicans won the majority in both of those elections, which meant that even though California represented a significant share of the Democratic caucus, the state’s representatives had relatively little power.

In the Republican delegation, Texas has held the most seats since 2004 (counting 2006, when it tied with California at 9.4 percent) — and it leads the party’s caucus again this year with 11.5 percent of the GOP’s House seats.

From 1970 to 2002, California also had — or tied for — the largest share of the GOP caucus. As recently as 1992, California had a larger share of the Republican caucus than the Democratic one, even though Democrats held more seats in the state. But the GOP’s position in California has weakened since the early 1990s, a trend often blamed on Proposition 187, which in 1994 sought to, among other things, eliminate public services to illegal immigrants and require state employees to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities. The theory is that this ballot measure turned California’s sizable Hispanic population away from the Republican Party, which campaigned in support of the proposition, and drove those voters into the arms of the Democratic Party. Now the California GOP seems almost like an endangered species, a development punctuated by the complete wipeout of Republican members from Orange County — a traditional home of California conservatism — in the midterm election.

Given the size of California’s congressional delegation, it will be interesting to see what issues California Democrats pursue — especially as relates to President Trump. Several members of the state’s delegation are in line to take over key leadership positions in the House, which would give them more power to take on the president, if they choose. For example, Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will get to determine whether and how the House is involved in investigations related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he just raised eyebrows by saying that the president could face jail time. Rep. Maxine Waters will head the Financial Services Committee, where she wants to investigate the Trump Organization’s financing. Many commentators have also suggested that Waters could pursue the president’s still-unreleased tax returns. Additionally, one lower-profile Californian slated to be a committee head — Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who is in line to lead the House Administration Committee — may be thrust into the national spotlight. Uncertainty surrounding the outcome in North Carolina’s 9th District could lead to a congressional investigation, which Lofgren’s committee would spearhead. Rep. Mark Takano is seeking to chair the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and if he succeeds, he’d be the fourth potential Democratic committee chair from the state (that we know of).

For Pelosi, the sizable California delegation could boost her bid to become House speaker again — after all, she faces dissent within the Democratic ranks from a faction looking to spoil her efforts to remain head of the party. Matthew Green, a political science professor at Catholic University, told me that in leadership elections, “lawmakers are more likely to vote for candidates who are elected from their state.” So we might expect most California Democrats to back Pelosi. Still, there is a fairly wide ideological range among the returning California Democrats, and most of the incoming freshmen won seats in battleground races. In fact, one freshman, Gil Cisneros, signed a letter opposing Pelosi’s candidacy for House speaker. So if some new members from previously Republican districts break against Pelosi in her bid for speaker, that would eat into her base of home-state support. However, at this stage, only Cisneros has openly demonstrated opposition and most other California representatives have expressed support.

California Democrats could be too politically diverse to agree on many legislative priorities, but the group may be able to generate momentum on a few specific issues. “You might see a little more action on climate change and immigration that specifically have to do with where California has really pushed back against the Trump administration,” said Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. Given the federal-state conflict that has defined the relationship between the president and California in recent years, it would make sense that California Democrats would push hard on environmental issues, even if a Republican Senate and president mean that those initiatives have little chance of becoming law.

Trump’s Base Isn’t Enough

There shouldn’t be much question about whether 2018 was a wave election. Of course it was a wave. You could endlessly debate the wave’s magnitude, depending on how much you focus on the number of votes versus the number of seats, the House versus the Senate versus governorships, and so forth. Personally, I’d rank the 2018 wave a tick behind both 1994, which represented a historic shift after years of Democratic dominance of the House, and 2010, which reflected an especially ferocious shift against then-President Barack Obama after he’d been elected in a landslide two years earlier. But I’d put 2018 a bit ahead of most other modern wave elections, such as 2006 and 1982. Your mileage may vary.

In another important respect, however, the 2018 wave was indisputably unlike any other in recent midterm history: It came with exceptionally high turnout. Turnout is currently estimated at 116 million voters, or 49.4 percent of the voting-eligible population. That’s an astounding number; only 83 million people voted in 2014, by contrast.

This high turnout makes for some rather unusual accomplishments. For instance, Democratic candidates for the House will receive almost as many votes this year as the 63 million that President Trump received in 2016, when he won the Electoral College (but lost the popular vote). As of Tuesday midday, Democratic House candidates had received 58.9 million votes, according to the latest tally by David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. However, 1.6 million ballots remain to be counted in California, and those are likely to be extremely Democratic. Other states also have more ballots to count, and they’re often provisional ballots that tend to lean Democratic. In 2016, Democratic candidates for the House added about 4 million votes from this point in the vote count to their final numbers. So this year, an eventual total of anywhere between 60 million and 63 million Democratic votes wouldn’t be too surprising.

There isn’t really any precedent for the opposition party at the midterm coming so close to the president’s vote total. The closest thing to an exception is 1970, when Democratic candidates for the House got 92 percent of Richard Nixon’s vote total from 1968, when he was elected president with only 43 percent of the vote. Even in wave elections, the opposition party usually comes nowhere near to replicating the president’s vote from two years earlier. In 2010, for instance, Republican candidates received 44.8 million votes for the House — a then-record total for a midterm but far fewer than Barack Obama’s 69.5 million votes in 2008.

Democratic candidates for the House in 2018 received almost as many votes as President Trump in 2016

Opposition party’s total popular vote in midterm House elections as a share of the president’s popular vote in the previous election, 1938-2018

Popular vote
Election house opp. party For House Opp. party for President in prev. election Opp. party’s house vote as share of pres. vote
2018 D 60-63m 63.0m 95-100%
1970 D 29.1 31.8 92
1994 R 36.6 44.9 82
1950 R 19.7 24.2 81
1982 D 35.3 43.9 80
1958 D 25.6 35.6 72
1946 R 18.4 25.6 72
1962 R 24.2 34.2 71
2006 D 42.3 62.0 68
1998 R 32.2 47.4 68
2002 D 33.8 50.5 67
1990 D 32.5 48.9 66
1954 D 22.4 34.1 66
2010 R 44.8 69.5 64
1974 D 30.0 47.2 64
1938 R 17.3 27.7 62
2014 R 40.0 65.9 61
1978 R 24.5 40.8 60
1986 D 32.4 54.5 59
1966 R 25.5 43.1 59
1942 R 14.3 27.3 52

“The resistance” turned out voters in astonishing numbers, performing well in both traditional swing states in the Midwest — including the states (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania) that essentially lost Hillary Clinton the presidential election in 2016 — and new-fangled swing states such as Arizona and Texas. Turnout among young voters was high by the standards of a midterm, and voters aged 18 to 29 chose Democratic candidates for the House by 35 points, a record margin for the youth vote in the exit-poll era. The Hispanic share of the electorate increased to 11 percent from 8 percent in the previous midterm, according to exit polls. To some extent, these are stories the media missed when it was chasing down all those dispatches from Trump Country. In a descriptive sense, this was a really big story.

In a predictive sense, what it means is less clear. Sometimes — as was the case in 2006, 1974 and 1930 — midterm waves are followed by turnover in the presidency two years later. But most presidents win re-election, including those who endured rough midterms (such as Obama in 2010, Bill Clinton in 1994 and Ronald Reagan in 1982). Nor is there any obvious relationship between how high turnout was at the midterm and how the incumbent president performed two years later. Democrats’ high turnout in 1970 presaged a landslide loss in 1972, when they nominated George McGovern.

This year’s results do serve as a warning to Trump in one important sense, however: His base alone will not be enough to win a second term. Throughout the stretch run of the 2018 midterm campaign, Trump and Republicans highlighted highly charged partisan issues, from the Central American migrant caravan to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. And Republican voters did indeed turn out in very high numbers: GOP candidates for the House received more than 50 million votes, more than the roughly 45 million they got in 2010.

But it wasn’t enough, or even close to enough. Problem No. 1 is that Republicans lost among swing voters: Independent voters went for Democrats by a 12-point margin, and voters who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 went to Democrats by 13 points.

Trump and Republicans also have Problem No. 2, however: Their base is smaller than the Democratic one. This isn’t quite as much of a disadvantage as it might seem; the Democratic base is less cohesive and therefore harder to govern. Democratic voters are sometimes less likely to turn out, although that wasn’t a problem this year. And because Republican voters are concentrated in rural, agrarian states, the GOP has a big advantage in the Senate.7

Nonetheless, it does mean that Republicans can’t win the presidency by turning out their base alone, a strategy that sometimes is available to Democrats. (Obama won re-election in 2012 despite losing independents by 5 points because his base was larger.) In the exit polling era, Republicans have never once had an advantage in party identification among voters in presidential years. George W. Bush’s Republicans were able to fight Democrats to a draw in 2004, when party identification was even, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

There are usually more Democrats than Republicans

Share of respondents to presidential election exit polls who identify as a member of each party

Year Democrats Republicans Independents Advantage
2016 37% 33% 31% D+4
2012 38 32 29 D+6
2008 39 32 29 D+7
2004 37 37 26 EVEN
2000 39 35 26 D+4
1996 40 35 22 D+5
1992 38 35 27 D+3
1988 37 35 26 D+2
1984 38 35 26 D+3
1980 43 28 23 D+15
1976 37 22 41 D+15

Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

I don’t want to go too far out on a limb in terms of any sort of prediction for 2020. In fact, lest you think that the midterms were the first step toward an inevitable one-term Trump presidency, several facts bear repeating: Most incumbent presidents win re-election, and although Democrats had a strong midterm this year, midterm election results aren’t strongly correlated with what happens in the presidential election two years later. Moreover, presidential approval numbers can shift significantly over two years, so while Trump would probably lose an election today on the basis of his approval ratings, his ratings today aren’t strongly predictive of what they’ll be in November 2020.

But presidents such as Reagan, Clinton and Obama, who recovered to win re-election after difficult midterms, didn’t do it without making some adjustments. Both Reagan and Clinton took a more explicitly bipartisan approach after their midterm losses. Obama at least acknowledged the scope of his defeat, owning up to his “shellacking” after 2010, although an initially bipartisan tone in 2011 had given way to a more combative approach by 2012. All three presidents also benefited from recovering economies — and although the economy is very strong now, there is arguably more downside than upside for Trump (voters have high expectations, but growth is more likely than not to slow a bit).

Trump’s political instincts, as strong as they are in certain ways, may also be miscalibrated. Trump would hate to acknowledge it, but he got most of the breaks in the 2016 election. He ran against a highly unpopular opponent in Clinton and benefited from the Comey letter in the campaign’s final days. He won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote — an advantage that may or may not carry over to 2020, depending on whether voters in the Midwest are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt again. Meanwhile, this year’s midterms — as well as the various congressional special elections that were contested this year and last year — were fought largely on red turf, especially in the Senate, where Trump may well have helped Republican candidates in states such as Indiana and North Dakota. The Republican play-to-the-base strategy was a disaster in the elections in Virginia in 2017 and in most swing states and suburban congressional districts this year, however.

At the least, odds are that Trump needs a course-correction, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll be willing to take one. While there’s some speculation that Trump could move in a more bipartisan direction, that hasn’t really been apparent yet in his actions since the midterms, or at least not on a consistent basis. Instead, he’s spent the first fortnight after the midterms firing his attorney general, implying that Democrats were trying to steal elections in Florida, and bragging about how he’d give himself an A-plus rating as president. The next two years will less be a test of Trump’s willpower than one of his dexterity and even his humility — not qualities he’s been known to have in great measure.

Split-Ticket Voting Hit A New Low In 2018 Senate And Governor Races

We went into Election Day with a hypothesis: Most Americans would cast a straight-ticket ballot — with some notable exceptions, which we’ll address in a moment. And we decided a good way to test this was to look at statewide races most likely to drive turnout in a midterm election cycle: U.S. Senate and governor contests.

There were 22 states that had races for both the Senate and governor on the ballot this election cycle. And what we found was the same party swept both offices in 16 of the 21 states where each race has been called23, with Democrats capturing both races in 12 states and Republicans doing so in four. Or, in other words, our hypothesis was mostly right — most Americans did vote for the same party in their Senate and governors race. But there were five states — Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and Vermont — where voters chose a Republican governor and a Democratic senator.

And while we were interested in what happened in these five states (more in a moment), we also wanted to look at every state that had both a Senate and governor race on the ballot to see just how far apart the voting margins were. The idea was this will help us understand how uncommon — or common — split-ticket voting was in 2018. And we could then situate what happened in 2018 by looking at previous midterms to see if there was a trend in how much split-ticket voting occurred between these two offices. (Spoiler: Split-ticket voting hit a new low.)

To do this, I calculated the difference between the margin of victory in the Senate and gubernatorial races for each state using the Democratic and Republican vote shares in each contest.24 And as the table below shows, Massachusetts had the biggest difference between its vote share margin in its races for Senate and governor. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker won reelection by about 32 percentage points and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren garnered a second term with a roughly 26-point margin, producing a gap of 57 points. So, in other words, in hyper-blue Massachusetts roughly 25 to 30 percent of voters cast ballots for both Baker and Warren.25 Two other states, Vermont and Maryland, also had very large differences between their Senate and governor races — about 55 and 47 points, respectively. Along with Massachusetts, these races all featured relatively popular incumbent Republican governors — Phil Scott in Vermont and Larry Hogan in Maryland — running in strongly Democratic states that easily reelected incumbent Democratic senators. The popularity and independent streaks of these GOP governors clearly helped them overcome the sharply Democratic leans of their states.

Split ticket voting in statewide races is pretty rare

Difference between the size of the margin of victory in 2018 Senate and governor races

Senate Governor
State Winner Incumb. Margin Winner Incumb. Margin Difference
MA Warren +25.5 Baker +31.9 57.4
VT Sanders* +40.3 Scott +14.6 54.9
MD Cardin +33.4 Hogan +13.4 46.8
CT Murphy +20.2 Lamont +3.1 17
AZ Sinema +2.0 Ducey +14.4 16.5
HI Hirono +42.3 Ige +29.0 13.3
MN‡ Klobuchar +24.1 Walz +11.4 12.7
ME King* +19.0 Mills +7.6 11.5
TX Cruz +2.6 Abbott +13.3 10.7
NY Gillibrand +33.0 Cuomo +22.3 10.7
OH Brown +6.4 DeWine +4.2 10.6
TN Blackburn +10.8 Lee +21.1 10.2
WI Baldwin +10.9 Evers +1.1 9.7
NM Heinrich +23.5 Grisham +14.3 9.2
RI Whitehouse +23.0 Raimondo +15.5 7.6
PA Casey +12.8 Wolf +16.8 4
MI Stabenow +6.4 Whitmer +9.5 3
WY Barrasso +36.9 Gordon +39.8 2.9
NV Rosen +5.0 Sisolak +4.1 0.9
MN‡ Smith +10.6 Walz +11.4 0.8
NE Fischer +19.2 Ricketts +18.9 0.4

Election data as of 10 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2018. Only states with both a Senate and gubernatorial election that featured candidates from both major parties are included. This means California is excluded because no Republican candidate qualified for its Senate election. Florida is also not included because both its Senate and gubernatorial elections are still uncalled. Some data may not add up due to rounding.

*Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maine Sen. Angus King are included as Democrats because they caucus with the party in the Senate.

‡Minnesota is included twice because it had two Senate elections this year.

Source: ABC NEWS

But these three states were notable outliers — no other state had a difference between their Senate and governor races that was greater than 17 points. That said, these less divided contests can still show you where a stronger candidate for one party may have made a difference. Take Tennessee’s Senate race, for instance. Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democrat Phil Bredesen there, but Bredesen — a popular former governormade the Senate contest notably closer than the gubernatorial election.

Incumbency may have been a factor, too. Both the Tennessee Senate and gubernatorial races were open seats, but in another GOP-leaning state like Ohio, there was one incumbent on the ballot, which might help explain why Ohioans elected a Democratic senator and a Republican governor. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won his race by about 6 points and Republican Mike DeWine won the open-seat governor race by 4 points. Given that Ohio is 7 points to the right of the country, Brown probably benefited at least some from an incumbency advantage The two races ran relatively close together — the difference was 11 points — suggesting that most voters voted for the same party in both contests.

But we were also interested in what would happen if we took a step back and zoomed out, looking at other midterm cycles and split-ticket voting. How would 2018 compare? It turns out that 2018 is part of a trend that shows fewer Americans are splitting their tickets (at least in races for the Senate and governors in midterm elections). This election had the smallest median difference of any midterm cycle going back to at least 1990 — 10 points.26

As you can see, even though 2018 has the lowest mark in the past three decades, the median difference from election cycle to election cycle has bounced around. Still, the overall trend is one of decline, at least since 1998. You might wonder why there are fairly regular ups and downs in the chart, but this can be explained by the number of elected governors running for re-election in each cycle.

For example, only eight incumbent governors ran in the 24 states included in my calculations for 2010, whereas in the 2014 cycle there were 16 states with incumbent governors. And what I found was cycles with fewer incumbent governors running tended to show less evidence of split-ticket voting (a lower median) while cycles with more incumbents demonstrated more evidence of split-ticket voting (a slightly higher median). Part of this is because governors often benefit from an incumbency advantage. As my colleague Nate Silver pointed out in his introduction to FiveThirtyEight’s governor forecast, partisanship explains less in gubernatorial elections than it does in federal contests, and therefore, incumbency might matter slightly more for governors than it does in either the House or Senate.

No matter which way you cut it, the difference between the margins in a state’s gubernatorial and Senate races has shrunk. More voters are casting straight-ticket ballots. There are exceptions, of course, but this shift matches what we know about the larger electoral picture: voters are more partisan and the country is more divided than it’s ever been in the modern era of U.S. politics.

CORRECTION (Nov. 19, 2018, 2:30 p.m.): A table in an earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated that the Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, was the incumbent. The race was for the seat that Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring from.

Something Looks Weird In Broward County. Here’s What We Know About A Possible Florida Recount.

The Florida U.S. Senate race is still too close to call. According to unofficial results on the Florida Department of State website at 11:45 a.m. Eastern on Friday, Nov. 9, Republican Gov. Rick Scott led Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 15,046 votes — or 0.18 percentage points. We’re watching that margin closely because if it stays about that small, it will trigger a recount. It’s already narrowed since election night, when Scott initially declared victory with a 56,000-vote lead.

The changing margin is due to continued vote-counting in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two of Florida’s largest and more Democratic-leaning counties. On Thursday evening, the supervisors of elections in the two counties told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that vote counting there was mostly complete. Under Florida law, counties have to report unofficial election results to the secretary of state by Saturday at noon, but Nelson’s campaign is suing to extend that deadline. Scott’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are also suing both counties for not disclosing more information about the ongoing count, and Scott called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward’s handling of ballots.

Unusually, the votes tabulated in Broward County so far exhibit a high rate of something called “undervoting,” or not voting in all the races on the ballot. Countywide, 26,060 fewer votes were cast in the U.S. Senate race than in the governor race.1 Put another way, turnout in the Senate race was 3.7 percent lower than in the gubernatorial race.

Broward County’s undervote rate is way out of line with every other county in Florida, which exhibited, at most, a 0.8-percent difference. (There is one outlier — the sparsely populated Liberty County — where votes cast in the Senate race were 1 percent higher than in the governor race, but there we’re talking about a difference of 26 votes, not more than 26,000, as is the case in Broward.)

To put in perspective what an eye-popping number of undervotes that is, more Broward County residents voted for the down-ballot constitutional offices of chief financial officer and state agriculture commissioner than U.S. Senate — an extremely high-profile election in which $181 million was spent. Generally, the higher the elected office, the less likely voters are to skip it on their ballots. Something sure does seem off in Broward County; we just don’t know what yet.

One possible reason for the discrepancy is poor ballot design. Broward County ballots listed the U.S. Senate race first, right after the ballot instructions. But that pushed the U.S. Senate race to the far bottom left of the ballot, where voters may have skimmed over it, while the governor’s race appears at the top of the ballot’s center column, immediately to the right of the instructions.

Sun Sentinel reporters talked with a ballot expert, who said that some voters may not have noticed the Senate race (perhaps thinking it was just part of the ballot instructions) and started filling out their ballot with the governor race instead. That theory is supported by a data consultant who’s worked for several political campaigns in Florida, who found that the parts of Broward County that fall in the 24th Congressional District did see higher levels of undervoting than other parts of the county. That might be because the 24th District was uncontested, which according to Florida law means that the congressional race did not appear on the ballot at all. As you can see in the sample ballot above, the congressional race would also appear in the lower-left corner on many ballots, along with the Senate race. In districts where there was no congressional race on the ballot, however, that corner would have looked even emptier, perhaps making it easier for voters to inadvertently skip over the Senate race.

An alternative explanation is that an error with the vote-tabulating machines in Broward County caused them to sometimes not read people’s votes for U.S. Senate. If that’s true, we would probably only find out if there is a manual recount. According to Florida law, any election that’s within half a percentage point (as this one currently is) triggers a machine recount; then, after the machine recount, if the race is within a quarter of a percentage point, it goes to a much more complex manual recount — a.k.a. each ballot is recounted by hand. As long as the machine recount doesn’t change the Senate results too much (barring a surprise in the remaining ballots in Broward and Palm Beach), it looks like that’s where we’re headed. In addition, Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are separated by just 0.44 points in the governor’s race, so that could go to a machine recount, too.

But recounts rarely change the outcomes of elections. A FairVote analysis found that the average recount from 2000 to 2015 shifted the election margin by an average of just 0.02 percentage points. The largest margin swing was 1,247 votes — coincidentally also coming in Florida, in the 2000 presidential race. If Nelson is going to stage a comeback in the Sunshine State, he’ll almost certainly have to close the gap between him and Scott even more in the next couple of days.

Will The Midterms Decide Who Runs In 2020?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): It is now 21 DAYS UNTIL THE MIDTERMS!! And while voters will mainly be deciding who controls Congress, they’ll also maybe be deciding what kind of Democrat should run in 2020. For instance, if Democrats don’t take back the House, does that mean a Joe Biden run in the 2020 Democratic primary is more likely? Or if there is a blue wave and Democrats gain 60+ seats, does that make the road easier for a more progressive Democrat like Sen. Kamala Harris?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Man, if the Democrats lose the House, I think there will be some straight-up PANIC.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): There would be, although one could ask whether it was warranted or not.

clare.malone: I don’t think Joe Biden needs them to lose the House to prove he’s a good candidate. He could just point to Democratic Senate losses, maybe?

Assuming that Democrats lose in a couple of red states, a candidate like Biden could say, “Look, I will make inroads in a place like that.”

But I’m interested in Nate’s House take.

natesilver: I mean, to a first approximation I think a lot of this stuff is silly.

Here’s why:

As David says, there isn’t much of a pattern for how midterms affect the next presidential election.

Certainly. it will affect Democrats’ attitude, but how much that attitudinal change affects 2020, and whether that is helpful or hurtful to Democrats, is pretty up in the air, IMO.

clare.malone: Right — I mean was just about to say, proof aside (proof! facts!), I think candidates and party apparatchiks always use a loss to motivate their constituents.

That attitudinal thing can be pretty powerful in a primary campaign. See: Bernie Sanders.

natesilver: I’m skeptical that Biden could use Senate losses to justify the need for more conservative candidates … if Democrats also win the House.

We’ll see, though. There are some pretty wacky scenarios that are within the realm of possibility, like Democrats winning 35 House seats but losing four Senate seats.

clare.malone: I think people’s minds are on the Senate right now, though. And the Republican majority there does lie in smaller states and regions that Democrats have gradually lost over the past couple of decades.

It’s not an absurd argument to make in 2019.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): I think Biden has to decide if he wants to run or not. He was kind of confused about whether to run in 2016. And based on what he’s been saying, he doesn’t seem to know now either. I think a really strong push to draft him might encourage him to get in the running. And I think Democrats not winning the House (assuming that they lose the Senate too) will get more people to encourage him to run. Biden would be an important figure if he got in the race, in large part because others in this more “centrist” lane might not run if he is in.

clare.malone: I don’t think Biden is a Mario Cuomo: I think he’ll get in the race. I’m not sure how much he’ll toy with people up until the very end.

natesilver: Are people’s expectations that Democrats will win the Senate? If so, people aren’t paying much attention (certainly not paying much attention to our forecast).

clare.malone: I don’t know. I don’t think people expect that. I guess you hear “blue wave” bandied about and you could make assumptions.

sarahf: And it wasn’t always so dire in the Senate either — it wasn’t until early October that Democrats’ odds worsened dramatically.

But OK, let’s set aside what could happen in the Senate for a moment and assume that there is a huge blue wave in the House and even in some key gubernatorial races like Stacey Abrams’s, in Georgia, and Andrew Gillum’s, in Florida.

It doesn’t mean Democrats win in 2020, but doesn’t it change the playing field of candidates in the Democratic primary? Or would Sens. Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker run no matter what?

clare.malone: I think Gillum or Abrams wins would be huge. It would challenge some norms about what sorts of candidates win in states where you need to win over moderates or Republican-leaning independents.

natesilver: Gov. Scott Walker losing his re-election bid in Wisconsin might have some interesting narrative implications too, although not in the same way that Gillum and Abrams do.

perry: I’m interested in Abrams’s and Gillum’s gubernatorial bids and Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Texas Senate run because they are all making the case that it is a better strategy to try to amp up the base to get greater minority and youth turnout rather than trying to win over swing voters. If they do significantly better in their states than more moderate candidates from previous years, I think that would buttress Democrats like Warren and Harris, who are more likely to run more decidedly liberal campaigns.

But the Midwest is interesting, as Nate is hinting at. The Democrats are doing well in the Midwest with a bunch of candidates who are kind of bland and fairly centrist-friendly. The South and the Midwest are, of course, very different regions, too.

natesilver: I guess I’ve just never dealt with an election before where you’d get the sort of split verdict like the one we’re predicting, where Democrats win the House and do pretty darn well in gubernatorial races but fall short –– and possibly even lose seats –– in the Senate. And some of the high-profile toss-up races could also go in different directions. Maybe Gillum wins in Florida but Abrams loses in Georgia, for example.

In that case, there would be a sort of battle-of-narrative-interpretations over the midterms.

sarahf: As our colleague Geoffrey Skelley wrote, the last time the Senate and House moved in opposite directions during a midterm was in 1982, during under Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Part of that was because Reagan had a pretty bad approval rating, in the low 40s … which isn’t too far off from where President Trump’s sits now.

natesilver: And I guess 1982 was interpreted as being pretty bad for Reagan? I was 4 years old then, so I don’t remember. 😉

sarahf: But we could get a really weird coalition of Democrats with competing priorities in 2019 if they do take back the House.

And that could make finding a general-election candidate that appeals to both the more moderate and more progressive wings of the party … challenging.

clare.malone: I guess this is why so many people in the post-2016 party were enamored of the Sanders economic message.

It gets to the progressive heart of things while trying to avoid the touchy culture stuff.

But, of course, Democrats have to figure out the Trump factor. Trump will inevitably drag culture wars stuff into a campaign.

perry: Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey and Amy Klobuchar are likely to win in the Midwest, an important region of the country for Democrats electorally — and some of that group could win easily. Post-election, we will be able to see the counties in Minnesota where Trump won in 2016 but that Klobuchar carried in 2018 — and I think there may be a lot of them. Plus, that’s the kind of thing she could talk about if she decides to run for president.

clare.malone: Right. But none of those senators have the buzz factor in this shadow primary that we’re in right now.

Nor the fundraising.

But that could change post-November.

sarahf: Speaking of fundraising …

What do we make of all the 💰💰💰 pouring into O’Rourke’s campaign?

Why aren’t more Democratic supporters funding races where the Democratic candidate actually stands a chance of winning?

natesilver: Oh no, you’re going to trigger me, Sarah.

The O’Rourke fundraising narrative is so fucking dumb.

Democrats are raising huge amounts of money EVERYWHERE.

EVERYWHERE.

clare.malone: We spend a lot of time here on numbers, but I always think of people reacting to politicians they really like in almost pheromone-tinged ways. People are irrational actors when it comes to politics — it’s why they vote by party even when the party positions do a 180 (see, ahem, the post-2016 GOP on trade, Russia, and so on.)

perry: In terms of O’Rourke, I was surprised the majority of the money came from Texas, according to his campaign. So it was not just coastal elites who liked seeing a white man delivering Black Lives Matter talking points. Houston, Austin and Dallas all have plenty of Democrats, but they are not Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., or New York. That also pushes back on the idea that he is somehow taking money away from other close races around the country.

clare.malone: Democrats see inspirational stuff in O’Rourke’s response to the NFL kneeling issue and the incident where a black man was shot and killed in his own home.

They like that he’s saying this stuff in Texas.

They also really dislike Ted Cruz.

perry: I think this kind of small-dollar fundraising is a real talent and shows real political appeal. It is what made Howard Dean, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders such viable candidates.

clare.malone: O’Rourke’s also gotten a lot of media buzz, so people know his name, unlike, say, Sen. Joe Donnelly (running for re-election in Indiana) or former Gov. Phil Bredesen (running for Senate in Tennessee).

So they send O’Rourke money!

natesilver: Texas is also a big state with a lot of wealth, and Democrats there haven’t had a lot to donate to in a while.

perry: I can’t tell if O’Rourke should run for president if he loses the Senate race. But he should definitely think about it.

Hard.

clare.malone: I mean, the thing about O’Rourke running in 2020 is that he’s proved he can fundraise and he’s still young(-ish), but he’s been in Congress awhile, which is an asset. People can’t call him too inexperienced the way they could with, say, failed Missouri Senate candidate Jason Kander.

perry: But I’m not sure how the midterms affect the political outsiders like lawyer Michael Avenatti, billionaire Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That is the one group I’m probably the most curious about. I feel like I know who the main established candidates are — the senator and governor types like Warren, Booker or Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. I suspect the more it seems like Democrats are in crisis, the more these outsiders have a rationale to run.

sarahf: Bloomberg did just re-register as a Democrat.

clare.malone: Real question: Does Avenatti actually want to run or does he just like the attention?

I don’t think he really wants to run.

natesilver: I think Avenatti’s chances are overrated because people are overcompensating for their failure to see Trump last time.

natesilver: He massively, massively, massively fucked up in the Kavanaugh thing.

He’s polling at 1 percent.

I don’t think his chances are zero … I just think he’s one from a long list of long shot possibilities.

clare.malone: POLLS!

Bloomberg’s flirtations feel so off for this political moment with the Democrats.

perry: I think Avenatti, Bloomberg and Steyer would love to be president, so if there is demand for their candidacies, they will be more than eager to jump in. But whether there’s demand for their candidacies is going to depend on whether Democrats need a savior.

sarahf: I guess what I’m trying to wrap my head around is: Under what scenario does it make sense for these outsider candidates to run?

perry: If Democrats lose the House and Senate.

natesilver: Make sense for them or make sense for Democrats?

perry: It makes sense for them.

natesilver: If Avenatti thinks it will help to sell more books and put him on TV even more, he’ll run.

If he thinks it will damage his brand in the long term, maybe not.

perry: Yes, Avenatti may just want the fame.

clare.malone: Right.

Steyer and Bloomberg are more interesting because they actually have $$$$.

perry: Bloomberg endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Maybe he feels like he should just run.

He tried to be a team player, and it didn’t work.

sarahf: No matter the national environment for Democrats?

clare.malone: E G O

perry: I think a lot of these candidates are more responsive to, say, “Morning Joe” than FiveThirtyEight.

I will be watching what “Morning Joe” says the day after the election.

sarahf: OK, so, what happens in 2018 means nothing for 2020 … but in a world where they are related, what are you looking for on election night to give you clues about 2020?

perry: I’m looking for results that will create narratives that make it easier for people to run — or not run. I assume Klobuchar wants to be president. Does she win her Senate election by so much that she convinces herself (and others) that she is the electable candidate Democrats want?

Or do Democrats do poorly enough in swing states that people who are too centrist for the party’s activist crowd (e.g., Biden, Bloomberg or Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper) convince themselves and others that they are the solution?

Maybe O’Rourke, Abrams and Gillum do so well that it’s clear Democrats should try to grow the base and focus on swing voters less. Or they do terribly — and the message is that Democrats should be thinking about the center more.

natesilver: Again, it depends a lot on what happens (obviously). If Democrats sweep both chambers, or lose both chambers, there are some pretty clear takeaways. Otherwise, I’m not sure that the midterms will affect people’s behavior that much. I do think the Abrams and Gillum gubernatorial races are important, though. Plus, there’s the fact that Democrats have nominated an awful lot of women. And if women do well, it could (perhaps quite correctly!) lead to a narrative that Democratic candidates should look more like the party they’re representing, which is to say diverse and mostly female.

perry: I think I might view the 2018 election results less as telling us important information about 2020 and more as data points that will be spun by self-interested people into rationales for what they already wanted to do anyway.

clare.malone: I guess I’m mostly focusing on what kinds of women turn out to vote for Democrats in this election. I want to see whether there’s elevated turnout in communities we don’t usually see elevated turnout in, particularly with women. There are a huge number of female candidates potentially on the Democratic docket for 2020, and Warren, for example, has already made an interesting ad about running as an angry women in the age of Trump. What I’m saying here is that I’m eager to see what the zeigtgeisty take away from Nov. 6 will be, in addition to what stories “Good Morning America” is running vs. “Morning Joe” (as a proxy for what Americans who aren’t microscopically interested in politics will take away from the election).

sarahf: Indeed. And I’ll be looking for FiveThirtyEight’s 🔥 takes as well.

Can Heitkamp Pull Off A Second Upset In North Dakota?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

Democrats’ chances of holding on to the North Dakota Senate seat — which is critical if they stand any chance of winning the upper chamber — look quite bleak according to a recent Fox News poll. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has long faced a tough uphill battle to win re-election in a state that President Trump carried by 36 percentage points in 2016. As you can see from the seven polls we’ve collected on the race so far, Heitkamp has trailed Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer for months. And two recent polls suggest that Heitkamp lost even more ground in the last couple of weeks, falling 10 to 12 points behind her opponent (before poll adjustments); in early September, she was only 4 points behind.

FiveThirtyEight’s Classic forecast currently gives Heitkamp just a 1 in 3 chance of winning re-election. Those odds aren’t great, but Heitkamp surprised everyone in her first bid for the seat in 2012 — more on that in a moment.

There is some speculation that Heitkamp’s vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination — a decision that was both politically and personally difficult for her — may have eroded the senator’s support among voters.9 But it’s difficult to say what impact, if any, her vote against Kavanaugh has had, as there hasn’t yet been any polling since the vote. That said, since the North Dakota contest is one of the most competitive Senate races this year, there will probably be at least a few more polls in the final weeks before the election.



Make no mistake, the polling so far is not great for Heitkamp, but this is a political candidate well acquainted with being an underdog. Heitkamp trailed her opponent in several polls in 2012, only to go on to win by less than 1 percentage point. It was one of the biggest election upsets that year. What’s more, her victory came even as Barack Obama lost the state to Mitt Romney by 20 points.

Although Heitkamp was able to pull off an improbable victory in 2012, there are already some signs that she might not be able to do the same this time around. Our polls database shows that eight polls conducted in October 2012 had her losing the race by as much as 10 points or winning it by as much as 6 points. But polls this year tell a different story. Only one poll has found her ahead, and it was conducted in February. The most recent poll suggests she’s trailing by as much as 12 points.

The political environment is more favorable for Democrats this year than it was in 2012, which could give Heitkamp a boost, but unfortunately for her, North Dakota has likely moved more to the right since she was elected, making it tougher for Democrats to compete there. To give you a sense of just how hard it is for Democrats to win in the state right now, consider North Dakota’s 2016 Senate race, where Democrat Eliot Glassheim lost to incumbent Republican John Hoeven by a whopping 62 points. And in this year’s congressional race,10 the Democratic candidate has less than a 1 in 100 chance of winning.

It could also be that Rep. Cramer is a stronger candidate than Heitkamp’s 2012 opponent was. That year, Rep. Rick Berg was a one-term congressman and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, who drew criticism for his ties to a controversial property-management company. But Cramer, a three-term Congressman, seems to be just as well liked as Heitkamp. What’s more, President Trump has a 64 percent approval rating in the state and has endorsed Cramer and even held a rally for him earlier this summer.

In 2012, Heitkamp’s strategy was to focus on local issues, like farming and energy, and avoid partisan politics. But that same strategy might not work as well this time around as she faces an increasingly nationalized landscape where more voters opt for the same party in every race. Furthermore, Heitkamp did not have a voting record to criticize in her first run. Now she does. Heitkamp has voted in line with Trump just 54 percent of the time, far less than we’d expect based on Trump’s margin of victory in her state. She voted against the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and against the GOP’s tax plan, opening her up to attacks from conservatives. But voting alongside Republicans may not have helped her re-election bid either. Her vote for the Keystone XL pipeline for example, could hurt her with Native American voters, who helped put her in office in 2012. And even if most Native American voters still support her, new voter ID requirements in the state are expected to depress turnout among tribe members in this election.

In the end, voting against Kavanaugh may be the least of Heitkamp’s worries. Heitkamp has less than a month to improve her poll numbers (or outperform them), and if she doesn’t, Democrats’ longshot odds of taking back the Senate become much longer.

Other polling nuggets

  • In Tennessee, a Siena College/New York Times live poll, which updates in real-time as respondents are called, has Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn leading her Democratic opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, by double digits. FiveThirtyEight’s classic forecast, which considers both polling and fundamentals, now gives Blackburn a 4 in 5 chance of winning, allowing Republicans to keep control of the seat. But our Lite forecast, which only uses polling data and listed the race as a toss-up last week, now gives Blackburn a 3 in 4 chance of taking the seat.
  • In Virginia’s 10th District, a Washington Post-Schar School poll found Democrat Jennifer Wexton with a double-digit lead over Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock. The FiveThirtyEight Classic model gives Wexton a 5 in 6 chance of unseating Comstock.
  • CNN found a 35-point gender gap in its most recent generic ballot poll; that’s up from a 29-point gap last month. Sixty-three percent of women and 45 percent of men said they were more likely to support a Democrat in their congressional district. Only 33 percent of women said they were more likely to support a Republican candidate, compared to 50 percent of men who said the same.
  • 80 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa own a mobile phone according to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center.11 While that percentage has held steady since 2014, rates of internet usage and smartphone ownership have increased.
  • According to a Pew Research Center survey, 38 percent of Canadians and 31 percent of Mexicans believe that the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its people. That’s down significantly from 2013, when 75 percent of Canadians and 55 percent of Mexicans said the same. What’s more, in 21 out of the 22 countries surveyed, negative perceptions of the U.S. government were more common than they had been in 2013.
  • 42 percent of adults in the U.S. say that they “strongly disagree” with the notion that they are interested in the political and social opinions of celebrities whose work they enjoy, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted with The Hollywood Reporter.
  • A poll of young people aged 18-24 conducted by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement and GfK found that 34 percent say they are “extremely likely” to vote this November. If that comes to pass, it would be an unusually high turnout rate for young adults in a midterm election.
  • A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that two different sampling methods for national political polls, random digit dialing (RDD) and registration-based sampling (RBS), yielded similar results. RDD involves finding a selection of potential voters that is representative of the national electorate by dialing random numbers, while RBS involves conducting polls using a list of registered voters. Many national polls use RDD, but this research suggests RBS may also produce good results.
  • Brazil’s presidential election has gone to a runoff after no candidate gained at least 50 percent of the vote during the first-round elections on Sunday. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote, while his best-performing opponent, leftist Fernando Haddad, won just 29 percent. Although polling prior to the first round suggested that a Bolsonaro-Haddad runoff could be close, a Datafolha poll published after the first round of voting found Bolsonaro leading Haddad 58 percent to 42 percent. The runoff election will be held on Oct. 28.

Trump approval

The president’s net approval rating currently sits at -10.7 points , according to our tracker. That’s about the same as it was one week ago. But Trump is doing better with voters than he was one month ago, when he had a -13.5 net approval rating (40.0 percent approved and 53.5 percent disapproved).

Generic ballot

Democrats haven’t improved their position by much over the last week. According to our generic congressional ballot polls, Democrats lead Republicans by an 8.3-point margin (49.7 percent to 41.4 percent). Last week, Democrats had a 7.7-point advantage over Republicans. One month ago, they were doing slightly better with an 8.6-point margin against Republicans.

Check out our 2018 House and Senate forecasts and all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the midterms.

CORRECTION (Oct. 12, 2018, 9:15 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Rep. Marsha Blackburn as an incumbent senator in Tennessee. Republican Bob Corker currently holds the seat.

Which Races Could Shake Up The Midterms?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): All right, team. We have 🚨 LESS THAN A MONTH 🚨 until the midterms, so it’s time we did an update on the races we’re watching: To get us started, what races are you watching that no one else is? Let’s start in the House (as there has to be at least one race flying under the radar in a pool of 435). We’ll be sure to make stops in today’s chat in the Senate and governor’s mansions as well.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): Collectively, the competitive North Carolina House races are very interesting. There is no major statewide contest in North Carolina this year — i.e., Senate or governor — making it what’s sometimes called a “blue moon” election. I’m curious to see if the Democrats’ enthusiasm advantage is bolstered by the lack of a notable contest at the top of the ticket.

sarahf: Any districts you’re eyeing specifically, Geoff?

geoffrey.skelley: Currently, FiveThirtyEight pegs the North Carolina 9th as a toss-up, so it’s probably the most notable. But the North Carolina 2nd and North Carolina 13th lean toward the GOP in our model.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): Agreed, Geoffrey. As I wrote this week, Democrats could pick up as many as five House seats in North Carolina with a big enough wave.

This is due in large part to how Republicans drew the state’s districts — i.e., they’re built to withstand a modest Democratic wave, but not a tsunami, as may form in 2018.

One race that’s on nobody’s radar there is the North Carolina 6th, Republican Rep. Mark Walker’s district. But we give him only a 5 in 6 chance.

geoffrey.skelley: In the case of the North Carolina 9th, it’s always interesting when an incumbent loses renomination, making it potentially easier for the opposition to win in the general election. In this case, Rep. Robert Pittenger lost to Mark Harris in the GOP primary, and that has probably helped the Democratic candidate, Dan McCready, who has a huge resource advantage over Harris in the general.

sarahf: But North Carolina did vote for President Trump in 2016. How is that factoring into what we’re seeing in the House races there?

nrakich: According to Morning Consult, Trump’s net approval rating has dropped by 20 points in North Carolina since the beginning of his term, so its love for Trump may not be what it once was.

sarahf: So why couldn’t Pittenger make it through his primary? I think Mark Sanford in the South Carolina 1st was the only other GOP incumbent to not win his renomination?

nrakich: That’s right, Sarah. Pittenger’s loss was kind of a delayed-release time bomb. In 2016, he narrowly beat Harris as questions were swirling about an ethics investigation and because he was new to much of the district after court-ordered redistricting. Pundits thought those issues had evaporated by 2018, but Harris ended up pulling out the win.

sarahf: And what do we know about Harris? Is he a Trumpy-Republican?

geoffrey.skelley: Harris is an evangelical Christian pastor who lost in North Carolina’s 2014 GOP Senate primary. Harris is an ardent social conservative, and given the president’s overwhelming support among evangelical Christian voters in 2016 and his continued support from that group, Harris could be described as “Trumpy” at least in who he most appeals to. Trump even helped Harris with a private fundraiser a little while back.

Janie Velencia (FiveThirtyEight contributor): Personally, I’m most curious about what’s happening in Minnesota — specifically in the 1st District. It’s a seat that has been left open by a Democrat (Tim Walz is running for governor). Donald Trump won the district by 14.9 points, while Hillary Clinton won the state by 1.5 points in 2016. I think it will be interesting to see whether they vote in another Democrat or opt for the Republican this time around. In 2012, the district went blue, voting for Obama over Romney by 49.6 percent to 48.2 percent.

Right now, the district is rated a toss-up by experts we rely in for our model, and the FiveThirtyEight forecast gives the Republican a 2 in 3 chance of winning. To me, it seems that Democrats should try to pick up at least one seat in the state to meet the seat target they need to win the House.

sarahf: Yeah, after 2016, I think there were some real questions about how much of a “blue wall” Minnesota would be moving forward.

Janie Velencia: Minnesota is also interesting in that both of its Senate seats are on the ballot in November and will likely stay blue, but the state’s House seats are pretty competitive. The Classic version of the FiveThirtyEight forecast currently rates five of the state’s eight races as competitive (lean Republican, lean Democrat, likely Republican, likely Democrat or toss-up).

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, Minnesota is basically the epicenter of competitive House races — it more or less has the largest share of races that are competitive of any state.

nrakich: Theoretically, Minnesota’s House delegation could be six Republicans and two Democrats or seven Democrats and one Republican. That’s, uh, a big range.

Janie Velencia: But Republicans also see potential pickups, especially in the Minnesota 1st.

sarahf: Why is that you think? Are we seeing a pretty big shift in the political makeup of Minnesota House races from 2016?

geoffrey.skelley: The state had lots of competitive races in 2016, too.

But I think the interesting part is that what’s going on in Minnesota is somewhat reflective of what we’re seeing nationally.

sarahf: Go on.

geoffrey.skelley: The Minnesota 2nd and Minnesota 3rd are partly, or mostly, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs.

sarahf: Ah, so Romney-Clinton districts?

Or Obama-Trump?

geoffrey.skelley: The Minnesota 3rd is a Republican-held Obama-Clinton seat. The Minnesota 2nd did go narrowly for Obama, but by only 0.1 points, and then it went for Trump by about a point.

nrakich: Yeah, but it’s not an Obama-Trump district by the spirit of the law. It shifted all of one percentage point — it just so happened that it was already close, so that made the difference between going blue or red.

geoffrey.skelley: Right.

And our House forecast gives Democrats a 5 in 6 chance of winning in each of those seats.

nrakich: The Minnesota 2nd stretches from almost downtown St. Paul to some pretty rural areas, so I think you may have a situation where lots of Romney-Clinton voters and Obama-Trump voters basically cancel each other out.

geoffrey.skelley: But the two rural Democratic seats that are particularly close — the Minnesota 1st and Minnesota 8th — are both open seats that swung sharply toward Trump after voting for Obama.

nrakich: As sharply as a Ginsu knife.

geoffrey.skelley: So Democrats are hoping the environment helps them retain those, while Republicans see those as among their only real pickup opportunities in this cycle. But we might have a situation where Democrats and Republicans just trade two seats with each other, resulting in no net change in Minnesota.

Janie Velencia: Even if Democrats come out even in Minnesota, it will still bode well for them in terms of taking the House. If they win more than that, I think it’s a good signal all around for Democrats.

nrakich: Agreed, Janie. If Democrats can win two very different district types in Minnesota, that’s a sign they might not have to choose one path forward in 2020 and beyond.

sarahf: I see what you mean about Minnesota being at the epicenter. But what about states that actually flipped red in 2016, like Pennsylvania?

geoffrey.skelley: Pennsylvania’s new map is working out nicely for Democrats, as you’d expect, considering that it was drawn by the Democratic-controlled state supreme court. The Pennsylvania delegation is currently 12-6 Republican (including vacant seats with the party that previously held them), but our current forecast suggests that there’s a pretty good chance it will be 9-9 after this election.

sarahf: Gotcha. So you’re telling me the Conor Lamb special election hype wasn’t wasted?

geoffrey.skelley: Lamb’s narrow special election win set him up to run in the new Pennsylvania 17th, where he’s favored against fellow incumbent Keith Rothfus, who’s a Republican. But the remnants of Lamb’s old district will almost certainly go Republican, so there’s no net change there. But the new map probably helped his chances of staying around, so watch out for Lamb to run against Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in 2022.

nrakich: There’s no way this doesn’t end with President Conor Lamb, is there?

sarahf: Ha, let’s see what happens in the Minnesota 2nd and Minnesota 3rd first.

nrakich: One district I think could be a deep sleeper Democratic pickup is Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik’s New York 21st. It’s kind of a weird district — located in New York’s rural North Country, it shares a lot of characteristics with next-door Quebec and Vermont that make it more liberal than you’d expect. It voted for Barack Obama by 6 points in 2012, and while it did swing strongly toward Trump in 2016, lots of other areas that did that (looking at you, Iowa) look poised to return to the Democratic column this year. New York 21st is actually a bluer seat than Rep. Claudia Tenney’s New York 22nd, which our model rates as lean Democratic. Now, Stefanik is a much stronger incumbent than Tenney is, but I’m surprised that there hasn’t even been any polling in New York 21st.

geoffrey.skelley: Nationally, it seems that a lot of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities are in the suburbs and exurbs. But they almost certainly have to win a few districts that are substantially rural, and many of those districts were places where Trump improved markedly on Mitt Romney’s vote support. The New York 21st is that sort of place, although Democrats probably have better rural/rural-ish targets.

sarahf: OK, switching gears just a little … What about sleeper races in the Senate? Or things that have surprised you? A much harder chamber to discuss this year, I know!

nrakich: I guess the main thing that has surprised me in the Senate is just how well Democrats have expanded the map. At this time last year, I thought Arizona would be lean Republican; instead, our model has it at lean Democratic. And I certainly didn’t expect Texas and Tennessee to be in play at all. (Both are lean Republican.)

geoffrey.skelley: With only 35 races in total, there really isn’t a true “sleeper” contest in the Senate. But Mississippi’s special election is unusual and worth commenting on. The election is technically nonpartisan — there won’t be any party labels on the ballot for that race — and it’s unlikely that any candidate will win a majority. If that’s the case, the winner will be determined in a runoff on Nov. 27, just after Thanksgiving. It’s possible, though unlikely, that control of the Senate could come down to that runoff, which would be quite the show.

sarahf: Do you really think Democratic challenger Mike Espy stands a chance, Geoff? What do we know about him? And when was the last time Mississippi elected a Democrat to the Senate?

geoffrey.skelley: I think it’s unlikely that Espy can defeat appointed Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in a runoff — Mississippi is a racially polarized state when it comes to voting, so it’s difficult to see a black Democrat winning. Still, if somehow Republican Chris McDaniel were to advance to a runoff, instead of Hyde-Smith, that would really open the door for an Espy win. McDaniel isn’t Roy Moore, but he has a lot of problems as a candidate. As for the last time a Democrat won a Senate race in Mississippi, we have to go back to John Stennis in 1982, though it’s worth remembering that Stennis was a conservative Democrat.

Janie Velencia: I’m surprised by a couple of seats that Democrats look to be in danger of holding on to. In Missouri, Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill is in a tight race with Republican Josh Hawley. And there’s also Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota.

sarahf: Right, do you think Heitkamp is in jeopardy now because she voted against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court?

Janie Velencia: I think that’s part of it. Polls conducted in the state before she voted showed that voters supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation and about a third of voters would be upset if she voted “no” on Kavanaugh. And Republicans are definitely trying to use it to campaign off of now.

nrakich: I’m not sure it will help her, but it’s clear that she was trailing before the Kavanaugh vote. The two latest polls have her down by double digits, and both were out of the field by the end of the day on Oct. 2.

I’m surprised by Heitkamp, too. In such a small state, you’d expect her to have a pretty big incumbency advantage. And she has a strong personal brand.

sarahf: It seems as if the #MeToo movement may resonate with Heitkamp given her mother’s experience with sexual assault. It definitely put her in a difficult situation of sticking to her moral guns and appeasing North Dakota voters, but maybe there’s a chance that resonates with women in North Dakota?

Janie Velencia: She’s also an example of how senators are increasingly losing their personal brand and voters are instead voting for local candidates based on national issues and aligning with national party sentiment.

nrakich: Yeah, there are several candidates who will be a test case of that this year. Phil Bredesen, the popular former governor of Tennessee who’s now running for U.S. Senate, also comes to mind.

sarahf: #TaylorSwiftEndorsement

nrakich: In all seriousness, I wonder if that could backfire because it nationalizes the race more.

And that is the last thing I will ever say about Taylor Swift’s endorsement.

geoffrey.skelley: Bredesen didn’t lose a single county in his 2006 re-election win for governor. But he’s an underdog against Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn. Tennessee has moved sharply to the right in the last few presidential cycles.

nrakich: Yeah, Geoffrey, remember when Tennessee was one of the hot Senate races of 2006? That state has changed a LOT since then.

Janie Velencia: Are you sure we can’t talk about the Taylor Swift effect?

sarahf: Tell us more, Janie!

Janie Velencia: While most celebrity endorsements don’t really affect elections, Trump actually responded to Taylor Swift, which is bringing more attention to her endorsement. Is there a chance she could have some effect? Maybe encourage younger voters to go out and vote?

sarahf: Well, Vote.org did tell BuzzFeed that they got 65,000 new voter registrations after Swift’s Instagram post. So you might be onto something.

nrakich: Speaking about candidates getting nationalized … I have some really out-there sleeper picks for governor. Sitting governors Phil Scott, Chris Sununu and/or Charlie Baker lose in Vermont, New Hampshire and/or Massachusetts, respectively. These New England Republicans are generally seen as unthreatened, but I do wonder how many Democrats (of which there are a lot in Vermont and Massachusetts) will go to the polls both (a) really steamed at Donald Trump and (b) prepared to vote Republican for governor.

sarahf: You think Charlie Baker is going to lose!?! Get out.

What evidence do you have?

nrakich: We have one poll of Vermont, and it gave Scott an 8-point lead. It’s a Democratic poll, but that’s not the lead you’d expect in a race rated “solid” or “safe” Republican by all three major handicappers. Scott’s approval rating also tanked after he signed a controversial gun-control bill.

And in New Hampshire, an American Research Group poll in late September found Sununu with just a 5-point lead. First-term New Hampshire governors almost never lose. But New Hampshire is a very elastic state, and in such a Democratic-leaning year, it might be asking too much for Sununu to survive.

Massachusetts is definitely the longest shot. There have been a few polls, all showing Baker with a huge lead. In my heart of hearts, I don’t really think it’s going to happen, but it could be closer than people think. All three of these races will be, I think.

sarahf: whispers Remember publishing this, Nathaniel?

Baker is safe.

nrakich: I don’t dispute that he’ll win, but I think “safe” is going too far. A 10-point Baker win feels right to me.

There will be a lot of energized Democrats voting in Boston and Cambridge.

geoffrey.skelley: One sleeper gubernatorial race this cycle might be a GOP pickup chance. In Oregon, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is a moderate favorite to win re-election, but we have seen some close poll results. A new, nonpartisan poll there just had her up 49 percent to 45 percent over the Republican candidate, Knute Buehler. Buehler is interesting because he’s a pro-choice Republican, running ads like this defending his position on the issue.

nrakich: To move away from my shamelessly outlandish claims, I’ve been surprised that Democrats are so competitive in Kansas. I thought they were sunk when Greg Orman got in that race as an independent, but he hasn’t been much of a factor. Democrat Laura Kelly even led Republican Kris Kobach in the latest poll (a Republican internal!).

geoffrey.skelley: The Kansas race is very interesting and speaks to the three-party nature of Kansas: Conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and Democrats.

If the Republicans nominate a very conservative candidate, moderate Republicans might swing toward the Democratic candidate and create a competitive environment. That seems to be happening in 2018. Kobach is about as conservative as they come, and a number of well-known Kansas Republicans have endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly instead.

It doesn’t help the GOP that former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback left office quite unpopular. Somewhat similarly, Oklahoma seems competitive in part because outgoing Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has maybe the worst approval rating in the country. This environment has given Democrats a bit of an opening, and they have won a number of state legislative special elections there since Trump was elected president.

nrakich: Yep, definitely another race that has surprised me. South Dakota may even be competitive, although I have yet to be convinced on that one. Democrat Billie Sutton released an internal poll that showed the race as close, and the Cook Political Report moved the race all the way to “toss-up.”

sarahf: The current governor breakdown is 33 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one independent (shout-out to Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska). Not everyone is up for election here in 2018, but it’s still pretty unlikely that we’ll have more Democratic than Republican governors by the end of the midterms, right?

Janie Velencia: Yep, there are 36 gubernatorial races this cycle. Of the seats that are up, 26 are currently controlled by Republicans, and nine are controlled by Democrats (the other governorship up is Walker’s, in Alaska). So, Republicans simply have more to lose.

nrakich: It’s not out of the question, Sarah. Because most of the governorships up this year were previously up for election in 2014 — a very good GOP year — there are a lot of pickup opportunities for Democrats. They need to flip 10 governorships to control a majority of states, which is certainly a lot, but they have as many as 12 opportunities for gains. In rough order of likelihood, IMO, those are Illinois, New Mexico, Michigan, Nevada, Maine, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Ohio, Georgia and Oklahoma.

And that’s not counting my sleeper picks 😉.

sarahf: Guess I’ll have to wait until we publish our FiveThirtyEight governors forecast 😉.

Cloudflare DNS and CDN With WordPress High Availability On Google Cloud

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Key Components & Services

There are two custom services running on the deployed machines that are essential for the solution to function properly. These services are ​gcs-sync ​(running on WordPress instances – both Admin and Content) and ​cloudsql-proxy​ (running on the SQL Proxy instances).

The ​gcs-sync​ service runs a script ​/opt/c2d/downloads/gcs-sync​ that, depending on the role the VM is assigned (Content or Admin), will check in with the GCS bucket tied to the deployment and determine if content needs to be pushed to or pulled from GCS. If you need to interact with the service, you can do so via ​systemctl​. For example:

systemctl stop gcs​-​sync

will kill the script checking GCS, and the node will not receive any updates that come from the Administrator Node. Conversely, if the service needs to be started you can do so with the following command:

systemctl start gcs​-​sync

The ​cloudsql-proxy​ service makes use of the ​Cloud SQL Proxy​ binary so you can connect to your Cloud SQL instance without having to whitelist IP addresses, which can change when instances are deleted and recreated in a Managed Instance Group. The Cloud SQL binary is located at ​/opt/c2d/downloads/cloud_sql_proxy​ and the script that executes the binary is located at ​/opt/c2d/downloads/cloudsql-proxy​. Like the service that runs ​gcs-sync​, it can be interacted with using ​systemctl​. Stopping the service can be done with:

systemctl stop cloudsql​-​proxy

At this point your instance will not be able to communicate with the Cloud SQL instance, and the application will not function. If you needed to manually start the service for any reason you can do so with the following command:

systemctl start cloudsql​-​proxy

Cloudflare DNS and CDN With WordPress High Availability On Google Cloud

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