- The 2018 midterm elections on Tuesday gave Democrats control of the House of Representatives and a powerful check against President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda.
- Democrats also won key governorships that will allow them to control district maps before the 2020 presidential election.
- Trump faced a fairly standard midterm correction, as presidents normally lose legislative seats in such elections.
- But exit polling suggests voters rejected or didn’t care much about Trump’s messaging, despite its media prominence.
- Healthcare, not immigration or the economy, emerged as the key issue for a plurality of voters in exit polling, which looks like a strength for the Democrats.
Voters around the US turned out in record numbers to shape their local and state governments against a backdrop of national division in this week’s midterm elections.
The results ushered in numerous historic firsts and upsets that saw President Donald Trump’s Republican Party lose absolute control of the government.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
- Democrats took control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2011, giving them a powerful check on Trump’s legislative agenda.
- Republicans maintained and grew their control of the Senate, meaning Trump can continue to push through lifetime federal court appointees at a record-breaking pace.
- Democrats won control of at least seven state capitols, including upsetting Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and turning a key state on the 2020 presidential map blue. Republicans, however, held Ohio, Florida, and Arizona, other key states in 2020.
- A night of historic diversity wins saw Congress gain its youngest-ever woman and its first Muslim, Korean-American, and Native American women. Colorado elected the US’s first openly gay governor.
- Exit polling indicated voters largely rejected Trump and the Republican’s midterm messaging and instead focused on healthcare.
Historically, presidents tend to experience a midterm correction that sees the opposition party winnow away their grip on power in the legislature. This year’s results fall generally in line with that trend.
But voters did send a clear message with both the volume and character of their ballots.
What voters care about
In Trump’s midterm campaign push, he repeatedly hammered the issue of immigration, often blaming Democrats for a caravan of Central American migrants whom he branded “invaders” heading toward the US’s southern border.
Democrats, who have struggled to get a word in around Trump’s media dominance, explicitly tried to focus the voting public on healthcare, and they look to have narrowly won the messaging battle.
An Associated Press exit poll of more than 115,000 voters found that 26% named healthcare as the most important issue facing the country. Immigration trailed just behind at 23%. These numbers roughly track with Google search data that showed more of the voting public searching for healthcare than for immigration.
Among Democratic voters, nearly 40% named healthcare as their priority, with a similar number of Republicans picking immigration.
Democrats specifically hammered Republicans on the issue of healthcare protections for people with preexisting medical conditions – protections the GOP has consistently worked to erode. Trump may have entered damage-control mode by suggesting throughout the campaign that his party would protect those with preexisting conditions, even though historically he has worked for the opposite.
As results started rolling in, a triumphant Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the House majority leader, declared that the elections were about “stopping the GOP” and what she referred to as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “assault on Medicare, Medicaid, affordable healthcare, and millions of Americans living with preexisting medical conditions.”
Trump’s tax cuts a political flop
Another key Trump talking point, the soaring US economy, came in as the biggest issue for 19% in exit polling, and other polling indicated Trump’s key contribution to government financial policy, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, flopped.
Just 28% of people surveyed said the act had helped them, according to an exit poll conducted by CNN, NBC, ABC, and other major news outlets. Another 45% said it did nothing for them, and 28% said it hurt them.
An internal GOP poll obtained by Bloomberg showed the party acknowledging that Republicans lost the messaging battle over the tax changes.
Democrats and Republicans understood Tuesday night to mean more than just winning seats in the legislature – it is also preparing the battleground for the 2020 presidential race.
The strong showing from Democrats winning governorships in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan will allow them to reshape congressional and state legislative districts. This redistricting could prove critical to the 2020 presidential maps.
But the fabled “blue wave” did not arrive with tsunami force. While some Democrats like Amy Klobuchar, who handily won reelection in Minnesota, may have come out of the races with 2020 buzz, the party still has no clear front-runner to take on Trump.
Women ran for office in historic numbers on Tuesday, and exit polling indicates female voters turned away from Trump in droves with 55% voting blue, according to the AP’s exit poll. Two Axios polls from the last week of October found Trump trailing every female Democrat mentioned as a 2020 presidential contender in a theoretical next-day general election.
Overall, the elections saw a stunning acceptance of racial, gender, and sexual diversity, with voters mainly focused on “kitchen table” issues, like healthcare, rather than identity issues like immigration.