The horrific mob attack on the Capitol on Wednesday, among its multiple repercussions, quickly shifted focus from the week’s other big news: the runoff elections for the US Senate in Georgia. Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeated Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue Democrats control Congress.
As with many recent political events, the more you zoom out, the more significant the Georgia drains are. In some ways, the results weren’t like that unpredictable. The final poll averages showed that both Democrats had only a small lead, and it was clear that the races were going to make the Democrats extremely competitive.
But the Georgian drains were full of practical and symbolic meaning. They revealed the boundaries of the Republican coalition, with or without President Trump, and left the party further in the electoral wilderness – it’s not clear where the Republican Party is going from here, especially after the violent uprising of Trump supporters in the Capitol.
First, the importance of Georgia in particular. I’ll save you quite a bit of the obvious implications, but having a Senate majority is a big deal. This means that the Democrats should be able to confirm the Supreme Court justices and the cabinet of President-elect Joe Biden. You will likely be able to at least pass additional COVID-19 stimulus laws along with other budgetary measures through reconciliation. Other policy changes would require the filibuster to be eliminated – unlikely – or enough Republicans to work together. But at least the Democrats will have a chance to speak Electoral reform laws like H.R. 1 and Politics like Puerto Rico statehoodand give them a chance to fight instead of letting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell crush them from the start.
And symbolically? So it is Georgia. With the possible exception of Texas, no other state has been such a symbol of an emerging Democratic coalition of white college graduates with a high turnout among black voters and other minority groups. Both Warnock and Ossoff are breakthrough candidates, not the moderate whites Blue dogs that Democrats traditionally nominated in Georgia. Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, becomes the first black senator from Georgia and the United States first black democrat ever serve in the US Senate from the south. Ossoff will be the one youngest senator elected since Biden1973 and the first Jewish senator elected to the US Senate from the South since the 1880s.
Then there’s the fact that the drains came during a lame duck period when Trump and other Republicans – as a predicate of Wednesday’s violence – tried to reverse and undermine the election results and undermine confidence in the democratic process. If Republicans get the message that anti-democratic actions will have negative consequences for the election, they may be less inclined to marginalize democracy in the future.
Republicans must not take this lesson away, however. One mindset is that we shouldn’t make too much of it because Warnock and Ossoff’s victories were close – once all the votes are counted, Warnock should win by about 2 percentage points and Ossoff by about 1 point.
I don’t find that convincing. The way political actors react to elections usually depends on who wins and who loses, not their profit margins. For example, nobody thought that Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were brilliant politicians because they narrowly lost in key states on the electoral college.
But it’s also not clear that these races were really business from the start. Consider the following:
- Georgia is now obviously a purple state, but overall it’s still a bit to the right of the country (Biden won in Georgia by 0.2 points versus 4.5 points in the national referendum). And the state was historically redder in runoff elections than in regular elections.
- Perdue was an elected incumbent (and Loeffler was an appointed incumbent, though appointed incumbents have had much worse track record), while Ossoff and Warnock had never won an election before. Although the tenure-related bonus is much smaller than it used to be, it is still difficult to beat established companies, especially with inexperienced opponents.
- Although the Georgia runoff election took place under unusual circumstances, it was reasonable to believe that the electoral environment might be similar to that of a mid-term election. It usually happens in the medium term that voters seek a balance and the president’s party loses ground in Congress. (The “intermediate penalty” we code into our congressional model is around 5 points.) In this case, one might expect this to work against Biden, with voters blaming the GOP as a control against democratic power for the Senate. Instead, there was roughly a 3 point shift to Democrats relative to the November vote.
After Georgia, the Republicans’ track record in the three general elections (2016, 2018, 2020), as well as the various runoffs and special elections that took place under Trump, now looks mediocre:
- Republicans went 1-1 on the electoral college.
- They lost two plebiscites for the president and increased their streak to seven losses in the last eight elections.
- The Republicans narrowly lost control of the US Senate, which they held between 54 and 46 before the 2016 elections.
- The GOP also narrowly lost control of the US house, which it dominated from 247 to 1888 towards 2016. However, this had a complicated process: Republicans lost a few house seats in 2016 and a ton of seats in 2018 before making up some ground again in 2020.
- Republicans have gone in about 50-50 Gubernatorial races in major swing statesFor example, it won in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona while it lost in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
- On the positive side of the ledger, the GOP did good at controlling state legislationalthough many of them are dependent on gerrymandering.
So it wasn’t awful It’s time to be a Republican running for office, but it wasn’t a good one either. Ordinarily, a party would try to go beyond a year-long president who had lost his party control of both Houses of Congress. Actually that’s nice: Usually a party doesn’t want to have anything to do with a losing presidential candidate.
When it comes to Trump, however, this calculation is not necessarily that straightforward as he tends to punish his internal party opponents: Republicans who tried to cross him, such as former Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, were sometimes forced to withdraw instead of facing the president’s wrath in an elementary school.
Still, the GOP did particularly badly in the Trump-era elections without Trump on the ballot too. republican lost the referendum for the US house in 2018 by 8.6 points without the president on the map. And while some are Republicans Blame Trump for their losses in GeorgiaThe fact is that in November Perdue won the majority vote with Trump on the ballot, but lost to Ossoff without him. Tuesday’s loss came mainly because of the lower turnout, especially in red, rural districts where Trump can get voters to vote.
To step back a little, the success of an electoral strategy is essentially based on four dimensions:
- How good is it to design the party base?
- How much does it cost other Party base?
- How good are swing voters?
- How efficiently is the party’s electoral coalition configured?
In the Trump-era election, Republicans tended to do well in two of these dimensions and badly in the other two. Trump gets a very high turnout from his base. Just as important, rural white voters, who form the core of this base, have far more power in the electoral college and Senate than their raw numbers would imply, making their coalition electoral. Therefore, their strategy in dimensions No. 1 and No. 4 has worked well.
The opposite is Trump extremely motivating in many parts of the democratic base (Dimension No. 2). And he’s a huge dislike for swing voters, or at least he’s proven himself after four years in office (dimension # 3). After narrowly beating Clinton independent voters in 2016Trump lost it to Biden 13 points in November. Swing voters weren’t very happy with the GOP either, with or without Trump on the ballot: they supported Democratic candidates for the US House of 12 points in 2018. Republicans have had particular problems with suburban swing voters, including in places that were once GOP strongholds.
We’ll have to wait, but the violence in the Capitol last week can only exacerbate the GOP’s problems in dimensions 2 and 3 few Survey A solid majority of Americans, including almost all Democrats and a majority of Independents, said the storming of the Capitol posed a threat to democracy. Similar proportions of Democrats and Independents said Trump and the Republicans of Congress were at least some to blame.
Republicans are in a pretty precarious position. At best, they often fight for a tie, and a strategy that is often lost without the structural advantages built into the country voter system. And if the Republicans don’t get it spectacular From its base, everything else may begin to crumble. Even a modest decline in voter turnout by people who are for MAGA not necessarily part of the traditional republican base can leave the GOP in a losing position.
The Republicans also have no obvious example of how to achieve consistent electoral success. Former Republican President George W. Bush saw his second term end with landslides against Republicans in 2006 and 2008. A number of recently-built presidential candidates (Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole) lost all of their tenure elections in the meantime. You really have to go back to Ronald Reagan to find an example of a clearly broad and successful Republican electoral coalition, and that was a generation ago. Republicans who cast their first votes for Reagan at the age of 18 in 1984 will be 58 years old in 2024.
This in no way means that Republicans are helpless. Under McConnell and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, their congressional agenda was also largely unpopular. If you consistently push for positions that a majority of the public opposes, you have to pay a price. The structural advantages of the Republicans (especially in the Senate) and Trump’s ability to increase voter turnout in those places where those structural advantages matter served as cover for a Minority agenda.
Despite all this, the opposition party’s tendency to regain a foothold in the medium term is very strong. You don’t want to bet that much against the GOP, which will win back one or both houses of Congress in 2022. (The house where Republicans should be take a few seats off the reallocation, actually might be a better choice than the Senate where Democrats have a relatively cheap card.)
However, after last week, I’m not sure if I want to put a lot of money into the GOP in 2022 as well. If the Georgian runoff elections served the medium term, they could indicate that the GOP cannot count on the profits that a party normally wins in the medium term. Like in the Primaries until 2010It is likely that the GOP is having some vicious intra-party fighting, potentially leading to them nominating sub-optimal candidates in some races. And, given last week’s violence and the Republicans’ efforts to dispute the electoral college outcome in Congress, in 2022 Democrats may again feel very motivated and feel – not inappropriately – that democracy itself is at stake .