The US midterms weren’t the sweeping rebuke of Democrats that we feared, but it’s still very possible that the increasingly radical and anti-democratic Republican Party will control the House when this election cycle is over. So while it’s clear the elections weren’t great for Republicans, they might not be great for the Democrats either.
That said, I see at a few positive stories from what we know so far.
Democracy was on the ballot
As Election Day approached, some Democrats criticised the emphasis President Biden and other Democrats had placed on its high stakes for American democracy, saying this argument would not galvanise voters.
It appears the critics were wrong. The president is unpopular, and inflation remains very high. But the election data we have so far suggests that core Democratic voters turned out in fairly high numbers and many voters not aligned with either party backed Democratic candidates in key races.
Though it is hard to prove why people voted a certain way, it is almost certainly the case that many weren’t voting in support of Biden or Democrats as much as rejecting Trumpism or whatever you want to call the antidemocratic movement within the Republican Party.
That anti-Trump coalition that swept the Republicans out of power in the 2018 and 2020 elections showed up again this year, giving Democrats a slew of important victories: the governorships in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and either majorities or very sizeable minorities in both the House and the Senate.
Democratic coalition remains broad
Despite criticism over the past few years that Democrats are a party dominated by college-educated White people, the party’s diverse coalition remains very much intact.
Black voters overwhelmingly (about 85 per cent) backed Democrats, as did a majority of Asian (about 63 per cent) and Latino (60 per cent) voters. The party won a big chunk of White voters (40 per cent) and even White voters without college degrees (32 per cent). Liberal voters (90 per cent), of course, preferred Democrats, but so did moderates (55 per cent). Michigan and Minnesota became Democratic strongholds
Democrats now control both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office in these two Midwest states. This is a remarkable shift from six years ago, when Hillary Clinton lost in Michigan and nearly in Minnesota.
Democrats took a drubbing at the state level in 2010 and 2014, the last time they held the White House. But early indications are that the party held its ground in many states and actually gained in numerous others.
Democratic centrists suffered setbacks
I am often leery of the tactics of some Democratic candidates, particularly from the party’s more centrist bloc. Many of those tactics failed this week — which should ensure that they don’t spread within the party.
Rep. Tim Ryan, running for a Senate seat in Ohio, sharply criticised Biden’s student loan cancellation and implied that the Democratic Party is writing off states that don’t have lots of college graduates.
If Ryan had won in this red state, his approach would have been hailed as what Democrats must do to win, even though it’s really just pandering to moderate and conservative-leaning White men. But Ryan lost to Republican J.D. Vance by about 7 percentage points.
In Florida’s US Senate race, the Democratic candidate, Rep. Val Demings, emphasised her tenure as Orlando’s police chief and repeatedly rebuked activists who have called for defunding the police. I hope Demings’s crushing defeat (by more than 16 points) shows Democrats that whatever electoral problems they have related to crime, policing and race, those aren’t going to be solved by trying to out-cop the Republicans.
In the end Democratic voters came out in droves to defend democracy, and some independents joined them. That is worth celebrating.
Perry Bacon Jr. is a columnist and a political editor for NBC