There’s a strange character to the post-election analyses of the moment, in which a wave election for Democrats where they won back the House of Representatives is being characterized as something like half a win. That’s partly because a number of dynamic young Democrats who had raised perhaps unreasonable hopes for victory fell short, but it’s also because Republicans are naturally triumphal even when they lose and Democrats tend to get depressed even when they win.
So in order to put the election in perspective, I’d like to widen our gaze beyond a few Senate and House races and look at some of the other results, particularly at the state level. When you do that, you see that Democrats have an awful lot to be happy about even beyond taking the House. Let’s break it down.
Democrats won in key governor’s races. While much of the attention was focused on the campaigns of Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia, both of which fell just short (though Abrams still hopes to force her opponent into a runoff), Democrats won a bunch of key governor’s races around the country. They flipped seven seats: Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Maine. Those victories included defeats for reviled Republicans Scott Walker and Kris Kobach, as well as electing the first openly gay governor (Jared Polis of Colorado) and the second Latina governor (Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico) in the nation’s history. Republicans did not win any governorships held by a Democrat.
Democrats won big in state legislatures. You’ve probably heard that over the eight years Barack Obama was president, Democrats lost a net of almost a thousand seats in state legislatures. Which is bad, but last night Democrats gained about 300 seats, so they’re well on their way to reversing those losses.
But the raw numbers are less important than where they picked up seats. Democrats gained “trifectas” — controlling the governorship and both houses of the legislature — in six states: Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and New York. In addition, they took away Republican trifectas in four more states, three by winning the governorship (Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin) and one by taking both chambers of the legislature (New Hampshire). They also flipped the Maine Senate and Minnesota House, and won supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate. The only chamber that flipped to Republican was the Alaska House.
Speaking of supermajorities, Democrats also won enough seats in North Carolina to break the GOP supermajorities in both houses there, meaning Republicans can no longer override Democratic governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes. They also broke Republican supermajorities in the Pennsylvania Senate and Michigan Senate.
Democratic women won everywhere. As of now, 95 women have won or are projected to win seats in the House, 82 of whom are Democrats. That includes the first two Muslim American women and the first two Native American women; a record number of women of color will be serving in the next Congress. We also saw six Democratic women win governor’s races, and we should take particular note of Michigan, where Democratic women swept races for governor, senator, attorney general and secretary of state.
Americans’ health care won big. Voters in the conservative states of Idaho, Nebraska and Utah passed ballot initiatives to accept the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which will bring coverage to hundreds of thousands of their citizens. In addition, Maine voters elected Democrat Janet Mills as governor, which should mean that the expansion legislators approved will finally be enacted now that America’s Worst Governor™ Paul LePage will finally be gone. It’s also possible that some of the other new Democratic governors could persuade legislatures in remaining holdout states to finally take the money the federal government is offering them to expand coverage.
Voting rights and democratic reforms were expanded. Voters in Michigan passed initiatives that will turn over redistricting to a nonpartisan commission and allow for automatic voter registration, same-day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and straight-ticket voting. Voters in Colorado and probably Utah (votes are still being tallied) approved nonpartisan redistricting commissions, Nevadans approved automatic voter registration, and Maryland voters approved same-day registration.
There were a couple of setbacks for voting rights, as Arkansas and North Carolina passed voter ID measures. But in the most important victory, Florida voters chose to cast off a legacy of Jim Crow and allow felons who have served their time to vote, which will mean that 1.6 million Floridians will get their voting rights restored.
Other progressive ballot measures won. A strong gun safety measure passed in Washington state. Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana, and medical marijuana was approved in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. Voters in Missouri and Arkansas passed increases in the minimum wage.
This really was a blue wave. There’s no question that Republicans won some key victories, but that shouldn’t distract us from just how big a blue wave this was — even if gerrymandering and geography helped contain its effects. Consider that in 2010, Republicans won the popular House vote by 7 percentage points and picked up 63 seats. Everyone described it as a crushing defeat for the Democrats (even though they held on to the Senate) and evidence of an unstoppable anti-Obama movement in the form of the tea party. This year, the Democrats are projected to have won the popular vote by the same amount, though when all the counting is done, they’ll net only up to around 35 seats.
So in terms of the message voters sent, 2018 was unquestionably on par with other midterm waves like 1994, 2006 and 2010. You can see the results wherever you look.