The headlines after the midterms were striking: “Democrats Retake House of Representatives.” “Republicans Gain Seats and Hold Majority in US Senate.” The most significant outcome, however, is that the American nation is more politically, socially, and economically divided than ever.
A careful analysis of exit polls and voting returns reinforces the truism that Republicans are holding strong in rural areas while Democrats are becoming the party of America’s cities and suburbs. This accounted for many of the House losses. Since America’s population growth is in cities and suburbs, this is bad news for the Republican Party.
The 2018 contests were also the “year of young voters.” An analysis from TargetSmart showed that early voting across every age group increased, but that the surge was most pronounced among voters between 18 and 29 years old. In this age group, more than 3.3 million voters went to the ballot, a 188 percent increase compared to 2014.
These young voters were not evenly distributed by party. Republicans are apparently becoming the party of older Americans while younger voters are favoring the Democrats. In future elections, this demographic reality poses a challenge to Republicans as serious as the urban/rural divide.
Exit polls show that 2 out of every 8 people polled said they were voting to support Donald J. Trump, but 3 of 8 said they were voting to oppose him: the evidence that President Trump hurt the Republican Party and helped Democrats retake the House of Representatives. America is now divided into the “Party of Trump” and the “Party of Never Trump.”
No races suggest this more clearly than the First and Third congressional districts in Iowa. In the First, incumbent Republican Rod Blum happily invited President Trump to a big rally where Trump encouraged voters to vote for Blum and asked them to see a vote for Blum as a vote for Trump. Blum lost to the 29-year-old Democratic woman Abby Finkenauer who will be one of the two youngest ever elected to the House.
In Iowa’s Third district, David Young, protégé and former staff member of powerful Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, was also thrilled to have President Trump hold a big rally for him. The result was also negative, as Young lost his seat to Cindy Axne, a businesswoman who had never held public office.
We did it! I’m honored to be your Democratic nominee for #IA03. Everyone played a critical role in this victory & I couldn’t be more grateful for your support.
— Cindy Axne (@Axne4Congress) June 6, 2018
Finkenauer and Axne are the first women ever elected to Congress from Iowa. Many political analysts believe that both Blum and Young could have squeaked to a victory by focusing on issues of importance in their districts and avoiding the distraction of a visit by President Trump.
As Trump rolls out his reelection campaign, opposition to him personally and to his policies will give Democrats an opening for retaking the White House, assuming they can unify around a viable candidate.
Another issue that demonstrates the division in the U.S. is gun control: 59 percent of voters support stricter gun control and only 37 percent opposed it. The U.S. is the nation of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Republicans and on the other side the nation of gun control and the Democrats.
The continued disasters of mass shootings in schools, workplaces, churches, the synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the Thousand Oaks shooting in California just a day after the elections, make this issue more visible and intense going forward.
We already saw many more candidates taking a position in favor of a variety of gun safety issues and gun control in the 2018 election than in previous years. While the NRA has been a powerful force in warding off most regulations on guns, a changing public opinion could bring supporters of new laws into office at the state and national level. According to some reports, the NRA has already seen a decline in income and perhaps membership.
The 2018 election also showed a continued shift of Hispanic, black, and Asian American voters away from the Republican Party and to Democratic candidates. Since this is the fastest growing voter sector, the swing poses a long-term challenge to Republicans.
As with women, suburban, and young voters, Republicans need to address this growing diversity deficit. This should not be impossible since these groups share some of the values espoused by Republicans such as religiosity, family, and community solidarity. George W. Bush demonstrated that Republicans can address the interests of these diverse groups, receiving larger percentages of votes from these groups than Trump.
Congress Reflects Polarization
These polarized metrics suggest that the U.S. Congress will now have more hardened conservatives and Trumpists on the Republican side of the divide and more progressive, liberal Senators and Representatives on the Democratic side.
In 2018, many moderate Republicans and Democrats retired, were “primaried” or defeated in the general election by more sharply ideological candidates. After all, there are real and deep differences between the two parties and in the current political climate, there is an emphasis on differences rather than on commonly shared agreements.
Over the next two years, this will make it even harder to legislate and to move on critical issues facing the nation. The United States has seen polarization over the past decade, but the 2018 election has elevated the roots of these divisions to new levels, posing dangerous paralysis at the state level and in Washington D.C. at a time when the world is more dangerous than it has been in generations.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.