2018Midterm

The First Post-Election Election

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In case you were worried you’d have to wait 577 days to see America head to the polls again, worry not! Georgia’s 6th Congressional district will be holding a special election in a mere ten. It will be to fill Tom Price’s seat, vacant now that he has taken the roll of Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration. No matter the result of the election, I can guarantee the they will be hyperbolically exaggerated in terms of their meaning. Before we worry about that though, let’s take a look at the state of things in the fightin’ 6th!

It is located just north of Atlanta and contains some of the cities more well off suburbs. This is a district that in 2012 was won by Romney by 23.3 points and in 2016 was won by Trump by 1.5 points.[1] Newt Gingrich won the congressional seat in 1979, held it for 20 years, and has been won by Republicans ever since he retired. The lines were redrawn slightly after the 2010 census though, so we shouldn’t make too much of history.[2]

There are 18 candidates currently vying for the open seat. The leader in the polls with 40% is Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary film maker and former Congressional aide. At 20% is the former Georgia Secretary of State, Republican Karen Handel. There are three other Republicans polling around 10% and the rest of the candidates are chopping up the remainder. This isn’t a run away for Ossoff though. If no one gets 50% of the vote then the top two vote getters will compete in a run off election on June 20th where Ossoff won’t have the benefit of a fractured Republican vote. If polling holds and June 20th sees Ossoff face off against Handel, current projections have it a virtual tie. Ossoff leads 42/41, but 17% of the electorate is undecided.[3]

If Ossoff Wins

The narrative the next day will be that the GOP control of the House and Senate is as good as gone. If the Republicans can’t hold such a red district, what hope do they have for the rest of the country? Trump’s low approval ratings obviously reflect a nation that has already rejected him. People will point to cases like Republican Scott Brown’s win in the special election for Democrat Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat which foreshadowed the oncoming Tea Party Wave. This would be a mistake for a number of reasons.

  • One data point should never be looked at as a trend.
  •  Enthusiasm is currently on the side of the Democrats, but that could easily fade in the next 20 months.
  • This was an open seat so the Republicans didn’t have the incumbency advantage they will in other races.
  • Trump could do any number of things to potentially turn his approval ratings around and win back the country. This is not intended as a conspiratorial statement, but wars traditionally have a ‘rally to the banner’ effect for the President.
  • Also in 2010 was a special election for Pennsylvania’s 12th district in which Democrats outperformed to hold a seat in a red area, but still lost 63 seats that coming November.

All of these points should be further emphasized if Ossoff wins the race narrowly.

If Handel (or Another Republican) Wins

The narrative the next day will be that the GOP have an absolute and undisputed mandate to govern this nation. The approval ratings for Congress, Trump, and the AHCA/Republicare were obviously all fake news. The country is behind the President, his agenda, and his accomplishments so far. There is no anxiety about what the investigations into the Russian influence on the election might reveal. The Democrats are a dead party clinging to relevancy. This would be a mistake for a number of reasons.

  • ONE DATA POINT SHOULD NEVER BE LOOKED AT AS A TREND.
  • This has been a Republican district for 38 years, it staying that way isn’t Earth shattering news. To expand on that, this district is 9.5 points more GOP leaning than the nation as a whole. Democrats need 24 seats to take control of Congress which means they just need to flip districts up to and including districts that are 4 points more GOP leaning than the nation.[4]
  • The Democrats still have plenty of time to coalesce the multiple movements resisting Trump into one political force.
  • Trump could do any number of things to plunge his approval ratings to new found depths. A President’s approval rating is the single most influential factor in predicting a party’s success in the midterm elections, so yes this really does matter. [I can’t link to the source on this as it was a politics podcast from the 538 crew, so that’s where I heard it.]

All of these points should be further emphasized if the Republican wins the race narrowly.

How You Should Read The Results

After Tuesday the 18th has passed, you should check the results. If no one has 50%, then don’t pay much attention to any of the spin since an election between two people can easily go differently than an election between 18. If someone does have 50%, then just don’t get carried away on reading the tea leaves. Montana, Kansas, South Carolina, and California will also be holding special elections in the next three months. To read more about them, I’d recommend this article. After all five of these races are done, then we can take a look at the data as a whole. Until then though, don’t pour too much energy into what is just the most recent play in a very long game.