Will The Democratic Party's Trump Bump Affect Midterm Elections?

The potential political shift developing in America is unfolding not only at the national level but also in state and local politics.
02/20/2017 06:06 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2017
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The first chaotic month of the Trump presidency does not bode well for Republican prospects in the 2018 midterm congressional elections - and possibly more importantly - for Republican success in state and local elections across the country, races that generally correlate to national trends.

The governors and state legislators who will be elected in 2018 will then determine the direction of American politics for the next generation. The congressional districts that they will reapportion will shape the ideological direction of the House of Representatives for the decade following. Thus the current Trump hemorrhage may well continue to bleed for the next political era.

Political scientists have determined that the vote for state offices correlates directly with incumbent presidential popularity. President Trump’s latest (February 18) Gallup rating is 38% approve, 55% disapprove: by far the lowest level of support for a new President in the history of American polling. Trump’s inept immigration executive order stumble, early morning tweet hysteria, non-functioning White House structure and the unfolding Russia political scandal do not presage that things will get better as his presidency unfolds.

Political parties of an incumbent president have lost on average 30 House seats and 4 Senate seats in the past 21 midterm elections. By way of example, the Republican gain of House seats in 2010 during Obama’s first midterm election was 63.

A confluence of events and circumstances is likely cresting in the 2018-midterm elections that well may rearrange American politics for the next generation.

Turnout in midterm elections is generally approximately 40% of eligible voters (compared to approximately 60% in presidential election years).

The drop-off in turnout between Presidential and midterm elections is most pronounced in the Democratic Party’s base and particularly among minorities and the young. That is one systemic reason that the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections were Democratic debacles. But this Democratic base that is traditionally politically disengaged for midterm elections is now mobilizing at a dramatic pace, especially among those who have been least likely to vote in midterm elections in the past.

Trump’s policies, style and rhetoric have electrified the Democratic base not only on social media, but also in the streets, at airports and in town halls since the Inauguration. The moribund Democratic base has come alive.

A recent Time magazine poll shows over 60% of the American people tense and uneasy by the political situation in our country. People express weariness with the drama, bravado, misinformation and unfolding scandal that comes almost daily from the White House. After the Watergate scandal, the Republicans lost 48 seats in the House of Representatives. The Democrats need only half that number, a switch of 24 seats to regain control of the House. In light of the chaos in the Administration and an energized Democratic base, the gain of 24 seats looks possible and even likely in 2018.

The potential political shift developing in America is unfolding not only at the national level but also in state and local politics. If Republicans want to be successful in enacting the authoritarian alt-Right Steve Bannon domestic and international agenda, then the Trump White House and the spineless Republican congressional leadership should try to enact it as quickly as possible. They should ram through as many extreme conservative judges as fast as they can, and intimidate the media into silence because their days of unitary one-party rule may soon be coming to an end.

A confluence of events and circumstances is likely cresting in the 2018-midterm elections that well may rearrange American politics for the next generation. If history and empirical models are any guide, Republican control of Congress after 2018 is in serious jeopardy as is its domination of American politics on the state and local level. And with almost all states electing governors and legislatures in 2018, a Trump-inspired political crash could not come at a worse time for the GOP.

Republicans now control 36 governorships and 68 of the 99 houses of state legislatures. They control both the governorship and legislature of 32 of the 50 American states. In 2018, 45 states will elect governors and 41 States will elect both houses of their legislatures. Four additional states will select one house of their legislature.

With few exceptions post-census reapportionment is determined within each state by legislatures and governors. The US House of Representatives is currently divided between 241 Republicans and 194 Democrats, a product of gerrymandering that has given the GOP a 47-seat majority despite the fact that Republican House candidates received over one million fewer votes than Democratic House candidates in 2016. This fact underscores the inordinate, unchecked power of the party that controls political redistricting.

Republican control of Congress is primarily a result of their domination of the redistricting process in six states: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Despite the fact that these states are generally considered politically competitive, Republicans control 66 of their congressional seats to the Democrats’ 30. If Democrats do well on the state level in 2018, especially in these six states, the post-2020 census re-apportionment will result in a far different map.

Putting all these factors together suggest a looming game-change in American politics. Obviously, it’s too early to see if Trump’s disapproval ratings will continue to remain low or even drop further. But even if Trump rebounds (which given the fresh dramas and almost daily created altercations looks unlikely), the historical trends for the non-presidential party to gain dramatically in midterm elections, and the electrifying mobilization of the Democratic base in reaction to Trump, points to a dramatic Democratic electoral opportunity in 2018, setting the stage for a Democratic controlled redistricting process after 2020.

New and bold Democratic leadership concentrating on policies, recruitment and technology on the local and state levels could embrace and amplify the historical opportunity for the party. With the country in increasing political and emotional panic, Trump will undoubtedly continue do his part in turning off America. It is not yet clear whether the Democratic Party can summon the energy and innovation to turn American on. But the ball is now in the Democrats’ court.

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