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Dems lost ground in Senate while actually winning most of the races

You might be surprised to hear this, but of U.S. Senate races that have been called as of this morning, Democrats (or independents who caucus with Democrats) had won 22, Republicans had won nine, and Republicans had slight leads in three others. Even if you assign those three seats to the Repubs, Democrats had won 22 out of 34 (or 65 percent) of the 2018 Senate races.

That gets in the way of the oversimplified analysis point that the good Democratic night in House races was offset by the good Republican night in Senate races. Democrats actually won a significant majority of the races for seats in both houses.

Nonetheless, Republicans went from a bare one-vote majority in the Senate to a significantly more comfortable 54-46. (That will also end their heavy reliance on their two or three least conservative members, like Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to pass a bill through the Senate – although passing a bill through the Senate also declines in importance since Democrats now control the House, so nothing can become law without some Democratic votes).

But to get back to the numbers at the top, Democrats won 65 percent of the Senate races, yet lost ground. That, obviously is the result of an oddity (compared to most other democracies in the world) of the U.S. system: the staggered six-year terms of senators, which results in only about a third of the 100 Senate seats being up every two years. We’re so used to it that it may not look odd to us, but it is and, in this particular case, it led to the fairly flukey result that Democrats lost ground in the Senate while winning most of the races.

The same fluke will, of course come around to the benefit of Democrats in 2020, when Republicans will have to defend 22 Senate seats that they currently control, while Democrats will only have to defend 12. Therefore, without getting into a complicated look-ahead at which seats are up and might be competitive, if Democrats managed to win, let’s say, just half (17) of the 2020 Senate races, that would be a five-seat pickup and give them a Senate majority.

Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 11/07/2018 - 02:44 pm.

    “…although passing a bill through the Senate also declines in importance since Democrats now control the House, so nothing can become law without some Democratic votes”

    I doubt many bills will be passed at all. Trump will take a hint from Obama and use his pen and his phone to keep his agenda moving. However, the one big opportunity Trump has coming up; another SCOTUS pick; now needs zero Democrat or groveling for RINO votes.

    That’s the word on my side of the street. We’re pretty happy.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/07/2018 - 03:32 pm.

    Boy! I needed this correction on what happened with the Senate, Eric!

    Thanks so much for pointing out the Democratic percentage of wins, and the effects possible in 2020. We all knew that the Democrats’ Senate races were numerous this year and gaining anything very chancy, but to realize that we won 65% of those races–even while not shifting control of the Senate–is bracing.

    I am also looking forward to the kind of House Committee investigations that the Republicans did during Obama’s eight-year presidency. The GOP wasted a lot of taxpayer money trying to find any corruption at all in the Obama White House and Cabinet. But now, there’s that whole Trump Swamp to dive into! These are grabbers of personal benefits from office, and i can’t wait to actually hear the detailed stories House Committees will reveal.

  3. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/07/2018 - 05:52 pm.

    A couple things to point out. While Dems did win more races, they did not live up to historical norms nor was there a blue wave. The average gain in a midterm is 37 House seats I believe… Dems only got 34, even with all the supposed anger at Trump.

    As for the “oddity”, we aren’t a pure democracy so comparing our system to any other system isn’t even worth noting. I do wish we would repeal the 17th Amendment though and go back to letting the States be represented at the Federal level again.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/08/2018 - 12:40 pm.

      I get a kick out of liberals being described of being elitist, when it’s conservative who propose elitist non-sense like telling me I am not capable of choosing who represents me in the US Senate.

      As far as a wave, Don Trump and the GOP got creamed. In the 1998 mid term, when the economy was humming along similarly to now (remember how the Clinton tax increase on the wealthy did not cause a huge recession as had been predicted?), the Dems did not lose but gained seats in the House. Slick Willy set a bar that Don Trump didn’t come close to on Tuesday.

      When the economy is good, losing 25 or 30 seats in the mid term is most assuredly not the norm.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/08/2018 - 05:00 pm.

        No one said any such thing about you voting. The Constitution and Founding Fathers set us up with a House to represent the People and a Senate to represent the States. That’s why every State gets 2 Senators regardless of population. The 17th Amendment changed all that so now we have a big mess where States aren’t represented at all. That only allows the Federal govt to take away powers from the States.

        As for the rest, there was no blue wave. The claims of one didn’t even live up to historical norms of a first term mid term election. The 1994 mid term losses by the Dems were the 2nd worst in the last 100 years.. only beaten by the 2010 midterms. So all your claims about Clinton aren’t reality nor applicable since we’re talking a 1st term midterm election.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/08/2018 - 05:48 pm.

          Hey, if you want to call losing over 25 seats, when the unemployment rate is under 4%, a victory, go ahead. If it were my side, I’d be looking for heads to roll. Incumbents kill to run with numbers like that. In the political world, to so badly under perform with this economy is absolute malpractice.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 11/08/2018 - 01:52 pm.

      Well, California is still counting ballots which would add 4 more seats to your completely arbitrary definition of what constitutes a “wave.” Given that Dems have also picked up 7 governorship’s, expanded state legislatures and limited their senate loss from a map that should have been much worse, I’d venture no amount of spin is going to turn Tuesday’s night’s results into a win for what passes for conservatism these days.

      • Submitted by Steve Roth on 11/09/2018 - 08:54 am.

        I’d say when you lose women, minorities, people under 50, by big amounts, and receive far less votes in states and counties with the highest populations, if that’s not a “blue wave” that’s certainly more evidence of a red decline. And a genuine repudiation of the damage to democracy and common sense that Trump and the GOP have been doing, nearly daily.

  4. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/07/2018 - 08:39 pm.

    What I’d like to know is, of all the US Senate races, how many votes were cast for the D and how many for the R?

    It just takes a calculator and some patience, one of which I don’t have. Not when I can wait for fivethirtyeight to do it for me.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 11/08/2018 - 09:32 am.

      The total vote for House, nation wide, showed the Hillary 3m majority grow to 5m.

      Rs proclaiming how OK they are with all this are simply whistling past the graveyard. Every cycle they lose a few more million voters.

      The Senate is their only hope: 30% of the voters controlling 70% of the seats in 3 R territory:


      Unfortunately for the Ron DeSantis’ of the world, things will be increasingly “monkeyed up”.

    • Submitted by Greg Smith on 11/08/2018 - 11:10 am.

      What relevance is the total votes cast in Senate races? Are you proposing to change to a nationwide election with proportional representation? An end to federalism?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/08/2018 - 12:34 pm.

        It is one measure of how the country voted Tuesday. Not the only measure. Not the most important measure. Just one piece of the puzzle. If we are to somehow gauge the intensity, or lack there of, of voters, it is a clue.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/08/2018 - 01:15 pm.

        We have to admit–all of us–that for each state to continue to have two Senators while population numbers are depleted in some states and burgeon in others, means that the American principal of one person, one vote is becoming extinct in practice. I was amazed to realize that the total voting population of the state of North Dakota is about the size of Charlotte, NC! ((And, of course, that denying the vote to about three thousand Native Americans who live on North Dakota reservations is totally outrageous and unacceptable.)

        Combine that built-in bias in favor of rural states (compare the power of a citizen’s vote in California with the vote in Montana, or Idaho or Wyoming, just to name three) with how few people have to vote for a candidate to elect them in underpopulated states, and you get to the national total Democratic votes–overwhelming by more than 5 million the votes for Republican senate candidates–electing fewer senators.

        I’m not enough of a policy wonk on electoral systems to have ready solutions. But I ask everyone to consider how long the American electorate will continue to accept the violation of our voting rights and equal representation in Congress that the current power of that tiny rural population entails.

        What we can do is eliminate gerrymandering. I understand that the GOP has enhanced its voting power by some of the most egregious gerrymandering in House races that one could imagine. The courts have eliminated some (in Pennsylvania, for example) and in other cases, states themselves, via ballot questions/referenda by the people, have begun to turn to non-legislative outside commissions to designate Congressional and state legislative districts. That should go a long way toward solving part of the imbalance.

        • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/08/2018 - 05:06 pm.

          The senate was never intended to be a popular vote chamber. It also wasn’t supposed to be about population at all. The Senate is supposed to represent the States not the individual people.

          You have equal voting representation in your House of Representatives. The Electoral College was set up to ensure lower population States have a say in Presidential elections. Without it, it’s mob rule and that’s not something you really want to see.

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/09/2018 - 05:12 pm.

            What is your point? It was never intended for women or blacks to vote.

            Should we go back to that too?

            The Constitution was never intended to prohibit slavery. Should we go back to too?

            Life’s such a drag when you live in the past.

          • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/09/2018 - 05:25 pm.

            When our Constitution was written, the states had more or less the same population. That is, if one counts slaves as full persons, which our beloved forefathers did not, as they also did not believe women intelligent enough to vote.

            Counting slaves, even the southern states in the 1780s had fairly solid populations. So, there’s an argument that can be made that the Founders did not intend for tiny itsy-bitsy states like low-population Wyoming to have the same impact on the Electoral College or the Senate itself as it does now.

            I saw one suggestion in comments elsewhere on this horrendous lack of appropriate recognition of voting rights: Each state would keep its two Senators, but their voting power in the Senate would be one-vote-per-five million people. meaning that each Senator from North Dakota and Wyoming would have, perhaps, one-half a vote, or one-quarter, while California and New York and Florida folks would not be disenferanchised, each of their Senators having multiple votes in the Senate.

            It doesn’t fix the Electoral College problem, I admit. But partial solutions, or at least a contemporary stab at equity, should be discussed.

            How about something like that Bob? Or are you stuck with a system that applied originally to thirteen states along the East Coast in 1780?

  5. Submitted by Tim Smith on 11/08/2018 - 12:06 pm.

    The lesson learned is that incumbent senators are very hard to beat, look no further than New Jersey. Dems won 56% of the vote nationally and won 65% of the races, pretty fair I think even though national vote totals are and shall remain irrelevant.

  6. Submitted by Paul Read on 11/08/2018 - 01:41 pm.

    Getting back to Eric’s post: Talk about flukes — when 2020 rolls around, the (almost) two to one advantage the Ds have in gaining seats will be offset (theoretically) by the presidential race. Had the Ds had that 2:1 advantage in this mid-term election, I suspect results may have been much more positive for them. Instead, the Rs only had to “protect” nine seats in a mid-term election, historically a “plus” election cycle for the party not holding the presidency.

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