Yesterday I tacked on a paragraph to the end of my blog offering some hope to my fellow Democrats. I suggested four reasons that the expected Republican wave might not occur.
I wasn’t serious. I was just trying to be nice. But it turned out to be prescient in the way that blind squirrels sometimes find nuts or that gorillas made to sit in front of typewriters eventually write War and Peace.
Of course, before I got to that I made only two predictions of which I was absolutely certain: the House would flip to Republicans by about two dozen seats and the GOP would pick up a veto proof majority in the State Senate. The latter happened, but it looks as if Democrats will retain a narrow veto-sustaining minority in the Assembly. And, of course, the House is, at this hour, still too close to call. So, I made two predictions that I didn’t think were even predictions but more like rules of physics or like death and taxes. I got one wrong since, even if they eke out House control, the Republicans aren’t going to do it with anywhere near 24 seats. Maybe we’ll pay taxes but we’ll never die. Do you want to live like that?
But I digress. I thought it was possible that Democrats would do better than expected because of strong early turnout, better educated voters, stubborn polarization and abortion. We don’t have enough data yet to analyze each of those factors, but it looks like at least some of them played a role.
Early turnout certainly was strong, but it looks like Democrats did better than expected on same day voting as well. That, in turn, may have had something to do with abortion. Exit polling found that, while abortion still came in second to inflation as the biggest issue on voters’ minds, it was a much closer second than polls had indicated. And NBC political analyst Chuck Todd said late in the evening that it was all about polarization. The issues and even the individual candidates were secondary at best. People just voted for their party or, more accurately, against the other guys. I haven’t seen any data yet on the education level of voters, but the theory there was that college-educated voters have higher rates of turnout in off year elections.
In any event, if those four factors explained what happened last night, then that could be good news for Big Blue going into 2024 (why not start talking about that today!) and, in Wisconsin, the important State Supreme Court race next spring. Abortion and polarization aren’t going away anytime soon and the Democrats continue to become the party of the college educated.
That last point I actually think is a big problem for them. For all the surprisingly happy news, the fundamentals remain. Democrats have become the party of tightly packed urban liberals with college degrees. They’ve actually over-performed in the House with that set up, but they continue to get creamed in state legislatures. Going into last night, Republicans controlled 30 legislatures while Democrats controlled 18 and only two states had split houses. I don’t have data yet, but I’d be surprised if that improved at all. And, as noted above, the Wisconsin Legislature became even more Republican, if the party will fall just short of having veto proof majorities.
So, it was a good night, but moderate Tony Evers out performed progressive Mandela Barnes by about 50,000 votes. Evers won and Barnes lost and that tells an important story. We’ll write more about that later.