The U.S. 2018 Mid-Term Election Results and the 2020 Presidential Election Outlook
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Given that the U.S. government is facing a period of rapid change within its unification policy, the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election is of great concern. With Donald Trump having won the 2016 election with a majority vote, there is growing interest in a possible second term with President Trump, given the unpredictable nature of his character. Accordingly, during the U.S. midterm elections in November 2018 the nature of the interim elections was, to some extent, a reflection of Trump’s popularity, and serves as a predictive scale for the results of the 2020 election.
During the 2016 Presidential Election, Trump won victories across the states in which Mitt Romney had won in 2012, securing victories across Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. Surprising, Trump’s approval rating among ethnic minorities like Latinos was higher than expected, especially compared to the 2012 Presidential Election. Indications from the exit poll showed that Clinton acquired 66% of the Latino votes, while Trump got 28%. Clinton’s achievement was close to the 67% Latino voters’ approval rate achieved by Obama during the 2008 Presidential Election, but less that the 71% achieved by Obama in 2012. Given Trump’s anti-immigration pledge to construct a border fence to restrict the entry of Latino’s immigrants, Trump’s 28% Latino approval rating was a surprise to many. Trump also achieved a higher approval rating from the Asian electorate than was expected (27%). Following his inauguration Trump introduced several harsh policies targeting ethnic minorities and immigrants, and during his mid-term election campaign he also spoke out against Mexican and Latino immigrants. These remarks made by Trump toward the minority and non-Latino White electorate are interesting to consider, but it has proven difficult to predict what affect they will have.
The turnout of the 2018 mid-term elections was noteworthy. With 49.3% of the eligible voting populace voting, this marked the highest median voter turnout since 1914. The Democratic Party lost two seats in the Senate while dominating the House of Representatives, occupying 235 seats. The Democratic Party also won seven states from the Republican Party in the governor elections. The U.S. is once again in the process of becoming a divided government, making the second portion of Trump’s Presidency (2019-2020) difficult for him to administer unilaterally. Thus, let us consider how some states have significantly changed in the election results of the Senatorial and Governorship races.
The Democratic Party’s strategy for achieving victory in the 2020 Presidential election is clear. In addition to maintaining control over Democratic Party electoral strongholds, the party is focused on restoring the traditional Democratic Party majority among states within the so-called rust belt, which backed Trump during the 2016 Presidential Election. These states include Wisconsin and Michigan. The election of Democratic governorships in Michigan and Wisconsin, combined with the re-election of Tom Wolf as the governor of Pennsylvania, is a positive signal for the democratic party and a warning light for Trump. Additionally the significant advancement of the Democrats in traditionally predominantly Republican states such as Georgia, Arizona, and Texas infers that the 2020 Presidential election will result in a victory for the Democratic party.
Based on the midterm elections in 2010 and the 2012 Presidential elections, less than 10 states will be contested, with Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Nevada being decisive states. Based upon the results of the 2018 mid-term elections, Georgia, Arizona, and Texas are the most likely states to be reversed. While Georgia has experienced a dramatic increase in its non-white population in recent years, Trump only achieved victory by a margin of 6% during the 2016 Presidential Election. During the governorship elections the Democratic candidate was promoted, but at the end of the recount they were defeated by a narrow margin. In the case of Arizona, the Democratic Party’s Kyrsten Sinema won a 2.35% margin over Republican candidate Martha McSally in the Senatorial elections. However, in the Arizonan governor election Republican candidate Doug Ducey won. There are also signs of change in Texas. Democratic hopeful candidate Beto O’Rourke lost by 2.6% to Republican Ted Cruz. However, current Republican governor Greg Abbott was re-elected with a 13.3% lead over his rival.
Additionally, in some prevailing Republican states the Republican party suffered crushing defeats. While Democratic states Minnesota and Nevada appeared to be the most likely to return to Trump, the mid-term elections highlighted the enduring Democratic support. While Trump was defeated in Minnesota by a 1.5% margin during the 2016 Presidential Election, during the 2018 mid-term election he reiterated his ambitions for re-election in 2020, and accordingly won two seats for the Republican party in the House of Representatives during the mid-terms. The Republicans also won a majority in the House of Representatives. Yet in this instance Minnesota was distanced from the Republican party. The situation mirrors both Colorado and Nevada, the two States where Trump lost in 2016 but which are expected to become contested states in 2020. However both these states saw victories for the Democratic party, and despite the of the Trump campaign Republican Senator Dean Heller failed to achieve re-election.
Presently, whether the political changes throughout rust belt states like Georgia, Arizona and Texas are a response to Trump’s policy changes, or special circumstances and individual candidate preferences is not clear. It’s possible this is the result of a change in popular opinion (for example O’Rourke in Texas or Abrams in Georgia). However, the approximate trend is a decline in Trump’s popularity compared to 2016.
I would like to briefly mention the limitations and implications on the analysis of data to-date. All of the aforementioned discussions were premised on the analysis and utilisation of weekly aggregated data. An in-depth analysis required a low-level analysis of weekly developments. The most ideal analysis would have been an individual-level analysis, however it is not possible to perform this analysis using the data acquired and released by the government. In all states the accumulated county or electoral data is provided, but individual data is not. Therefore, I had to depend on using integrated data only. Despite such limitations, there are two important factors which will have a great influence on the 2020 Presidential Election to be considered.
First is the increased voter turnout amongst minority races. The turnout for Latino and Asian voters skyrocketed in 2018, and this affected the prospects of Democratic candidates in several states. However, the majority of states and districts within which minority races/ethnic groups reside are already predominantly pro-Democrat areas.
Second is the density and distribution of ethnic minority residences. Minority ethnic and racial groups mostly live in urban areas. In recent years, while the residential areas of ethnic minorities have spread amongst many states, the majority of ethnic minorities and races remain concentrated in the urban areas of some states. In most urban areas the support by minorities for Democratic candidates is dominant, with a data analysis of the 2016 Presidential Election illustrating that the approval rating for Democratic candidates in a county where the minority ethnic and racial population was higher than seen in 2012. However, in other electorates (i.e. areas where the white population was significant) the approval rating for a minority Democratic candidate was not very high, with approval ratings for a White Republican candidate being comparatively higher.
Given this population distribution, Trump’s consistent attacks on immigration matters and minority ethnic and racial groups has a dual effect. In addition to the increasing the voter turnout of minority ethnic and racial groups in favour of the Democratic party, the increased turnout of white voters in non-urban areas (so-called “angry white voters”) in support of Trump has the same effect - loss of the 2020 Presidential Elections. Although this phenomenon was largely absent during the midterm elections where local candidates and local issues were of greater concern, this effect will be more evident in the 2020 Presidential Election involving only two main candidates. Finally, the problem is observed in the map area below, and illustrates the possibility for the Democrats to make a return.
In the 2016 Presidential Election, Trump won 2,626 electorates while Hillary Clinton won 487 electorates. Of these 2,626 electorates, 206 were held by Obama following the 2008 and 2012 elections. The results of the 2020 Presidential Elections will thus depend upon whether the Democratic party can recover such electorates.
****The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of NKR or the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies.