by Jonathan Hobratsch
The 2018 Election has been called a “Blue Wave” by most analysts, despite Democrats losing two seats in the US Senate. Democrats gained 40 US Reps to retake control of the US House. They also gained six governors. Election day trickery by some Republicans arguably denied victories in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and possibly in other states.
I have analyzed every wave election since the 1994 Newt Gingrich-led “Contract with America,” which saw Republicans gain the US House for the first time since 1952. Along with the 1994 Election, the 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2018 elections are undeniably waves.
How can the 2018 Election compare to these other wave elections?
I’ve created my own algorithm to determine the strength of wave elections so that I can compare the 2018 Election with prior wave elections. For this, I look at the US Senate elections, US House elections, governor elections and, if applicable, presidential election. The ingredients for this algorithm are the following —
1) How many swing states or states previously in control by the other party were converted to new party control and/or support. This is the most important factor and so I weigh it heavier than the others.
2) How many states stayed under opposition party control/support but saw significant decreases in opposition party control/support in this state?
3) How many states already siding with the wave party saw a significant increase in control/support.
4) States that saw a decrease in control/support for the wave party, including states that saw a significant gain by the opposition party in states where the opposition party already had firm control/support.
5) Swing state victories are given slightly more weight.
6) Another historical factor should be included, but we need some distance from the 2018 election to apply this to this election. This factor is “legacy states”– states that converted to the wave party and stayed supporters of that party for many future elections, so much so that they lost “swing state” status in presidential elections, if they had it, or lost near permanent support for the other party in general or midterm election.
Here are how the different wave elections fared for each of these parts.
States Waved by Wave Party
1994 Republicans: 10 (Alabama, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington)
2008 Democrats: 8 (Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia)
2018 Democrats: 4 (Maine, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia)
2010 Republicans: 4 (New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin)
2006 Democrats: 2 (Arkansas and Ohio)
The 1994 Republicans, for the most part, saw the last of the traditional Southern Democrats convert to the Republican Party, which allowed for 6 of the 10 wave states.
The 2018 Democrats were able to take back Nevada and Virginia, two states trending Blue since the 2008 Wave. They were able to take back Pennsylvania, a state which clearly regrets voting for Trump in 2016. Most interesting is that the Democrats waved in Maine, a state that rarely waves.
Interesting fact: New England Republicans in the US House, for the first time in Republican Party history, are nonexistent. If not for Susan Collins, they would be completely absent from the entire Congress.
Opposition States Wounded by the Wave Party
1994 Republicans: 11 (California, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island)
2010 Republicans: 10 (Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia)
2006 Democrats: 9 (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Pennsylvania, Virginia).
2008 Democrats: 5 (Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana)
2018 Democrats: 4 (Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Wisconsin)
The 2018 election saw Democrats gain their first US Senator from Arizona in about 30 years: Krysten Sinema.
Georgia, traditionally a solid Red State in the 21st century, ticked towards the Democratic Party. Georgia’s election was the most controversial as there is a possibility that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was defeated only because of election outages at polling locations, voter suppression and other should-be abnormalities under the supervision of the Georgia’s Secretary of State, who also happened to be Abram’s opponent.
Iowa, like Pennsylvania, is another Trump state that seems to be regretting their support for Trump. Democrats took the majority of the US Reps for this state and they nearly won the governorship. In all, they stifled the momentum that Republicans had gained in this state since the 2010 Republican Wave.
Wisconsin is another state regretting their support for Trump. Scott Walker, long-time Republican governor and once rising star in the party, was defeated for reelection. Sen. Tammy Baldwin was overwhelmingly reelected. However, Democrats could not make any gains in US Reps in this state where Republicans hold the majority.
Significant Increase in Already Loyal States by Wave Party
2010 Republicans: 7 (Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee)
2006 Democrats: 7 (Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont)
2018 Democrats: 5 (California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico)
2008 Democrats: 4 (Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon)
1994 Republicans: 4 (Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, New Hampshire)
A large chunk of the 40 seat gains in the US House for the 2018 Democrats come from states that are already friendly to the Democratic Party. California alone makes up about 18% of Democratic gains in 2018. In all, 38% of Democrat US House gains came from these states.
Where Wave Parties Lost Support
1994 Republicans: 0
2006 Democrats: 0
2008 Democrats: 2 (Louisiana and Mississippi)
2010 Republicans: 2 (Connecticut and Hawaii)
2018 Democrats: 2* (Florida and North Carolina)
Racism probably played a factor in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2008. For 2010, Connecticut and Hawaii may have been the few states that were still excited about Obamacare in the early phases; however, Obamacare’s popularity would increase as Obama was leaving office in 2016-2017.
I place an asterisk on the 2018 Democratic election. While to a lesser degree than in Georgia, the election process in Republican-controlled Florida and Republican-controlled North Carolina saw some shenanigans that may have undermined the Democrats. Nevertheless, unlike Georgia where some Democratic gains were made, Republicans made “official” gains in Florida and North Carolina, with or without election day skulduggery.
Significant Swing State Gains by Wave Parties
2008 Democrats: 9
2006 Democrats: 6
1994 Republicans: 5
2010 Republicans: 4
2018 Democrats: 3
The 2018 Democrats saw gains in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Maine. I do not count Virginia and Nevada as swing states since they reliably go blue during the presidential elections (the measure for swing states). I don’t yet consider Arizona a swing state; however, I will change the swing states to 4 if the 2020 Election polls see Arizona as a swing state in the weeks leading up to election day.
Wave Elections That Converted States Long-Term
1994 Republicans: 5 (Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas)
2008 Democrats: 5 (Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia)
2010 Republicans: 1 (North Dakota)
2006 Democrats: 0
2018 Democrats: TBD (Likely, 0)
The 1994 Election converted last of several Traditional Southern Democrats into Republicans. The 2008 converted five states that were formerly toss-up states into reliably “Lean Democrat” states during presidential elections. The 2010 election pretty much saw the end of a strong Democratic Party in North Dakota.
It’s doubtful that the 2018 Democratic Wave will see any legacy states among its wave victories. The election basically just protected Nevada and Virginia as legacy states for the 2008 election. Maine and Pennsylvania have always been volatile in the 21st century. The center of Pennsylvania is so largely rural that the state will go back and forth in US House elections most likely. If there is any candidate for a legacy state from the 2018 Democratic Wave it will be Maine.
Which Wave Elections is the Most Significant Wave Election?
I have three tiers. The first tier are Wave Elections that saw not only a larger number of states get waved, but also left a high number of legacy states. The second tier saw a significant lesser form of success than the first tier. The third tier saw a significant lesser form of success than the second tier, and possibly saw overall losses in the US Senate, governor’s races, or even in a presidential election.
First Tier: 1994 Republican Wave and 2008 Democratic Wave
These elections are comparable. Both creative a prominent and lasting voting shift on the electoral map. Interestingly, both of these were elections that had high-energy and a message that was much more than just opposing something or someone–“The Contract with America” and “Change We Can Believe In/Yes We Can.”
Second Tier: 2006 Democratic Wave and 2010 Republican Wave
The wave elections of 2006 and 2010 brought significantly less change. Both were elections mostly in opposition of something–the wars of George W. Bush and Obamacare, respectively.
Third Tier: 2018 Democratic Wave
This election falls short of the other four waves–however, it is still a wave. It is the only one of these wave elections that saw losses in the US Senate. This election will likely leave no legacy states. This success of this election was concentrated on fewer states than in these other elections. While it brought enthusiasm it didn’t have the the strong message of a first-tier election; it was primarily an opposition to Trump election.
Despite this, the 2018 Election certainly saw voter enthusiasm at a first tier level. There may be reasons why first-tier enthusiasm led to a 3rd tier wave.
First, this might be the first wave election against a president that is presiding during a strong economy. It can be expected that voter enthusiasm for Trump supporters was still high, and that while some conservative and independent voters did vote for Democrats in the US House, they may have voted for a Republican governor or US Senator, or some in some other combination.
Secondly, at least three Republican-controlled states–Georgia, Florida, North Carolina–saw election day mishaps that should have prompted a re-vote rather than a run-off.
Perhaps the 2018 Election will operate similarly to the 2006 Election, which helped lay the ground work for the first-tier 2008 Democratic Wave. Democrats will need to bring and inspire the same voter enthusiasm–finding more Beto O’Rourke-like charismatic candidates–, but they also need a grounded message in which opposition to Trump is only a piece of the message and not at the top of the list. It must be something universal to all Americans–economy, jobs, justice, peace, good health, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.