News Tip: Election Results Offer ‘Extremely Bleak Picture’ for GOP, Expert Says

Political scientist David Rohde on what Tuesday’s voting could mean for 2018 midterm elections

Democrats won a number of key elections Tuesday, providing possible clues to next year’s midterm elections.

  • Quotes:
    "It is a full year until the midterm elections, and the political landscape could easily change substantially before then. But in my view the results from Tuesday offer an extremely bleak picture for the Republicans moving ahead," says Duke University political scientist David Rohde, who specializes in American politics, including campaigns, elections and legislative politics.

“Overall, Virginia has been closely divided between the parties in recent years. This wholesale rejection of Republican legislative candidates in a set of districts that were drawn to strongly favor their party seems to set the stage for a potential electoral disaster in 2018 of the scope of 2006 and 2008. It will be interesting to watch how the GOP tries to adjust their political strategies to compensate.”

“American state elections potentially involve both national and local influences. Presidential election years usually offer the greatest likelihood of a national trend affecting results. For ‘off-off’ year elections -- odd-numbered years with few contests, like 2017 -- national impacts are frequently minimal or absent.”

“The most visible contests this year, the governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, yielded big wins for the Democrats. Many analysts are automatically attributing those outcomes to a backlash against President Trump and his party. It is also plausible, however, that the results stemmed from weak candidates on the Republican side or other local forces. The most fruitful place to look to assess a ‘Trump effect’ is in races below the statewide level like the state legislature, where individual candidates are less visible and their campaigns are more modestly funded.”

“It is here that the picture for the GOP is ugly indeed. Before the Tuesday elections, the party split in the Virginia House of Delegates (the state’s lower chamber) was 66 Republicans to 34 Democrats. (The state senate seats were not contested this year.) On Tuesday, the Democrats gained at least 14 seats, with three remaining seats having Republican candidates with a very narrow lead. If the GOP retains all three of the close seats the party will have a 51-49 majority in Virginia’s lower house; if Republicans were to lose two of them, the Democrats would be the majority party.”

“In New Jersey, the Democrats already had substantial majorities in both chambers before the elections, but they added at least one state senate seat and possibly some additional seats in the lower house.”

  • Bio:

David Rohde is a professor of political science and director of the Political Institutions and Public Choice Program, Duke University. He specializes in American politics, including campaigns and elections, and legislative politics. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, author of "Parties and Leaders in the Post-Reform House" and co-author of a series of books on every national election since 1980.