2018 midterm election polls prove surprisingly accurate

Unlike the 2016 Presidential election, the 2018 midterms were largely lacking in terms of large upsets and changes to the established order. There were surprises, such as the Republican candidate for Senate Rick Scott defeating Democratic favorite Bill Nelson in Florida, and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema upsetting Republican Martha McSally in Arizona, but in general, the election results were as expected. On election night, the Upshot, a division of the New York Times, estimated a Democrat gain of 38 seats in the House and a Republican gain of 2 seats in the Senate. Well known poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight predicted the Democrats would pick up 39 House seats and mirrored the Upshot with its prediction of a 2 seat swing in favor of the Republicans in the Senate. After a surprisingly close runoff in Mississippi, the Republican gain in the Senate is 2 seats. One house district- North Carolina’s ninth- is currently being investigated for voter fraud linked to the Republican candidate’s tight victory, but it appears the Democrats final gain in the House will be 40 seats.

On top of their gains in the House, Democrats also flipped 7 governorships, and won the popular vote in both the House and the Senate by over 8%. While they did lose ground in the Senate, they were defending a record setting 23 Senate seats to the Republican’s 9, and managed to win toss-up contests in Nevada and Arizona. It wasn’t all good news for the Democrats, however. Viral video star and underdog Beto O’Rourke was unable to defeat long time Senator Ted Cruz in Texas, and promising candidates for governor in both Florida and Georgia were defeated by Republicans, with Ron DeSantis defeating Andrew Gillum by around 35,000 votes in Florida. Even more narrow was the margin by which Nelson lost in the same state- fewer than 15,000 votes.

In Massachusetts, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Republican Governor Charlie Baker both won reelection easily, Warren with 60.5% of the vote and Baker with 66.8%. Baker even managed to win 47% of Democrats, an astonishingly strong performance in a state that is rated as the fifth bluest in the country by Politico. This made Massachusetts one of only 5 states to elect a governor and senator of different political parties out of the 22 states that voted for both positions on election day, a new low. When added together, Warren’s margin of victory and Baker’s margin of victory were 57.4 points. This figure is known as the difference in margin of victory. Massachusetts had the highest difference in margin of victory, edging out Vermont’s 54.9 point gap and Maryland’s 46.8 point difference. Outside of those 3 states, the next largest difference was only 17 points, in Connecticut.

Of the 3 statewide ballot questions, 2 and 3 passed with around 70% of the vote. Question 2 created a commission to recommend a constitutional amendment that would stop corporations from being able to make unregulated campaign donations, and question 3 kept a law in place that prohibited discrimination against people based on their gender identity for admission or treatment in a public place. Question 1, which was defeated with 70% of the vote, would have limited the maximum number of patients that could be assigned to one nurse at any given time.

In Massachusetts’ ninth House district, which includes Nantucket, incumbent Bill Keating defeated Republican challenger Peter Tedeschi, gathering 59.3% of the vote. He well outperformed that mark in Nantucket, where he won 71.4% of ballots cast. Warren also did well, with 65.9%. On the other hand, Baker underperformed on Nantucket and only received 57.3%. This is likely because, according to the Associated Press, Nantucket is considerably more liberal than the Massachusetts average. Following that trend, Nantucket backed Julian Cyr, the Democrat who won a place on the Massachusetts state Senate over John Flores.

The only close elections on Nantucket were the local ballot measures, questions 4 and 5, both of which proposed improvements to Nantucket roads. They were both defeated, but the margin of defeat was less than 100 votes for each question.

An overarching theme of the midterms in general was the high voter turnout. For context, midterm elections draw out far fewer voters than elections in presidential years. From 1982 to 2014, an average of 40% of eligible voters cast a ballot in midterm elections and 60% cast ballots in presidential years. This year, the percent of midterm voters skyrocketed to 49%. According to Fair Vote, that’s the highest percent in the 100 years the site tracks. That’s also a total reversal of a trend that led to 2014’s turnout of 37% being the 70 year low. In several states, the turnout even rivaled that of a presidential year, an impressive feat even though turnout in 2016 was relatively low. Nantucket also had good turnout, at 60%, the second highest of the new century for a midterm. That totaled 5,377 voters, though under 5,000 voted on the local questions, with just shy of 450 ballots left blank. This is interesting in no small part because of how close those questions ended up being. The blank ballots, if filled, easily could have flipped the results on both of them.

It would be hard to pick one single trend that best encapsulates the results from the midterms on a national, state, or local level. Nationally, the Democrats overperformed compared to a generic year, but that was to be expected with an unpopular Republican president, and the Republicans did win enough races to not only hold but increase their majority in the Senate. On the state level, the split ticket is the obvious stand out anecdote, but a deeper dive into the statistics shows that more than Republicans gaining ground in Massachusetts- which would be big news in a traditionally blue state with 11 electoral votes- Baker is just an aberration. Every House district elected a Democrat, the Attorney General was a Democrat, and only Plymouth elected a Republican District Attorney.

Many point to the overwhelming turnout as the strongest narrative, and while it was certainly extraordinary, it’s still unclear what it means for the future. While Democrats did overperform compared to a generic year, they did not do significantly better than predicted by major poll aggregators, despite all of the aggregators underestimating voter turnout by at least a few million voters. This suggests the added voters are no more liberal than the average voters, in contradiction to common knowledge. However, it should be noted that said aggregators did predict a high turnout- just not one as high as they got- and the forecasts interpreted that as a good sign for Democrats. Based on that information, it could be that the added voters were more liberal than the average voters- which is supported by their primarily young makeup- just not as much so as pollsters thought.

So what does any of this mean for 2020? It’s hard to tell. It’s difficult to know if the high turnout will be sustained, or how the more even split of Senate seats up for election will affect results, or if Trump will be as unpopular, or if he will even be representing the Republicans in the general election- though he probably will be. It is, however, increasingly likely that the House, Senate, and Presidency will all be up in the air in 2020, making it one of the most important elections in recent memory.


By JohnCarl McGrady

Finance director

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