The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Which election was worse for Democrats: 2010 or 2014? It’s a surprisingly close call.

Republican Cory Gardner waves with his wife, Jamie, in Denver after winning the midterm elections on Nov. 4. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

The GOP just won big in a wave election.

But while it was pretty clearly a wave, the raw numbers are going to be significantly less overwhelming for the GOP than they were in the 2010 wave — especially when it comes to governors races and the House, where GOP gains will be a fraction of what they were four years ago (63 seats).

Even considering that, though, the 2014 election still looks very similar to 2010 — and in some ways, better for Republicans — for a host of reasons.

First off, if you look at the exit polls, most of the demographic splits are within a point or two of the Republican-Democratic split in 2010. This chart is from the Pew Research Center:

The GOP's overall ballot lead was 52 to 47 on Tuesday (five points), vs. 52 to 45 in 2010 (seven points). The GOP lost a little ground among women, but did just as well among men.

As our own Philip Bump reports, the GOP also did modestly better among African Americans and much better among Asian Americans, but did worse among Latinos.

The overall picture, though, is one of a very similar national electorate, if just a little less pro-GOP.

Now, let's look at the three big categories — the Senate, the House and governor's races.

Senate seats gained

  • 2010: 6
  • 2014: At least 7, and as many as 9 (Alaska and Louisiana are undetermined, but favor the GOP)

Republicans in 2010 squandered some good opportunities to make even bigger gains in the Senate, losing toss-up races to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), in particular, thanks to some weak candidates who said unhelpful things.

Of course, this year, they had a much better map, chasing seven states that went for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. They won five of them and could sweep the seven if they win Alaska (where ballots are still being counted but Republican Dan Sullivan leads by four points) and Louisiana, which is headed to a Dec. 6 runoff. Democrats will be quick to point out the GOP only won two non-Romney states — Colorado and Iowa — which are both swing states, and lost a couple other swing states in New Hampshire and Virginia albeit narrowly.

Unlike 2010, the GOP didn't win in blue states like Illinois and Pennsylvania. But their overall gains were bigger — and probably will be 50 percent bigger in the end.

Advantage: Even

Senate standing

  • 2010: 47
  • 2014: At least 52, as many as 54

The GOP fell short of the majority in 2010, but it won it this year. And the majority, after all, is what matters.

Advantage: 2014

House seats gained

  • 2010: 63
  • 2014: At least 9 (with 14 races still outstanding)

This is what is going to cause most people to doubt the wave. The GOP will probably gain, at most, in the mid-double digits. Even that would be just one-quarter of the number of seats they won in 2010.

But what most people don't recognize is that the GOP had so many fewer plausible targets. Back in 2010, they controlled fewer than 180 seats out of 435 — about 41 percent of the chamber. This year, they started with 234 seats — about 54 percent of the chamber. Given so many House districts (probably 40 percent on either side) are simply unwinnable for the opposition party, meaning there were far fewer low-hanging fruit(s) for Republicans to pick off. And if the GOP had 180 seats heading into Tuesday, they probably would have gained dozens more seats, given the environment.

At the same time, 63 seats is 63 seats.

Advantage: Slight edge to 2010

House standing

  • 2010: 242
  • 2014: 243 so far (19 race outstanding)

The GOP majority in 2015 will be bigger than it was in 2011 — that much we know. And while it's not official yet, the GOP majority come January is also likely to be bigger than at any point since the Great Depression. That's nearly eight decades. The previous high was in the late 1940s, when the GOP had 246 seats.

The practical difference between 242 and 246 seats, of course, isn't huge. Still ...

Advantage: Slight edge to 2014

Governor's seats gained

  • 2010: 6
  • 2014: At least 2, as many as 3 (Alaska)

The situation here is similar to the House. The GOP had many fewer targets because of their gains four years ago. The same governors who benefited from the 2010 Republican wave were the ones trying to retain their offices — often in some very difficult states.

They did, almost without fail (looking at you, Tom Corbett), and the GOP was able to somehow pick off seats in three very blue states — Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.

Advantage: Slight edge to 2010

Governors standing

  • 2010: 29
  • 2014: At least 31, possibly 32 (Alaska)

Controlling 30 governorships was the goal that Republicans set in 2010 and fell just shy of. They surpassed it this time, even though there was some thought heading into Tuesday that they could lose ground.

Republicans now control 64 percent of the nation's governorships — and could get to two-thirds if Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) defeats independent Bill Walker. If this were the Senate, that would be a filibuster-proof majority.

Advantage: 2014

In sum: The electorate Tuesday was essentially a repeat of 2010. The GOP won fewer seats overall, but it finds itself almost across the board in a better position than four years ago.

Which makes it hard to argue that 2014 wasn't just as good for the GOP as 2010 was.