There's lots of ways to look at the results of last Tuesday's midterm election. But some ways are wrong -- like the attempt by Republicans to spin the election as a GOP win.
Today Ed Dover spoke the truth about the midterms at an engrossing Salem City Club presentation, "Patterns and Meanings of the 2018 National, Oregon, and Mid-Valley Elections." Dover is a retired Professor Emeritus at the Western Oregon University Department of Political Science and Public Administration.
This was Dover's 10th post-election talk to the Salem City Club.
I've heard a bunch of them. Dover has an astounding grasp of political details. He rattles off a rash of numbers, results, statistics, and such without ever checking his notes -- unless he's got an extra set of eyes that were hidden from view.
He started off by telling us that he prefers to focus on the House of Representatives, since all the House members are elected every two years, the number of people in each district is about the same, and it is a national election. The Senate and Governor races, by contrast, don't provide nearly as good an indicator of the nation's political mood.
Dover figures that the Democrats will pick up 35 seats in the House.
This is a conservative estimate since FiveThirtyEight projects a 37 seat gain. In the Senate, the Democrats had to defend 26 seats and the Republicans only nine. Still, Republicans are expected to gain only 1-3 seats.
(FiveThirtyEight predicts two, which will happen if the Arizona Senate race goes to the Democrat, who is leading at the moment, and if the Florida Senate race goes to the Republican, which seems likely, even with a recount.)
Democrats gained seven Governor seats, which brings them almost up to even with Republicans. Currently there are 23 Democratic Governors, 26 Republican Governors, and one race too close to call (Georgia).
This was a core message from Dover: it no longer makes sense to speak of "red states and blue states" (assuming it ever did). Rather, the Big Political Divide is between the suburbs and rural areas. All 38 House seats that Democrats flipped in the midterms were suburban districts.
The Dems lost three seats in rural areas, leaving them with Dover's estimated 35 seat gain, with several races undecided.
Politics, Dover said, follows Newton's Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This leads to periodic realignments of the political landscape. The suburbs turning leftward, toward the Democrats, is the realignment much in evidence now.
Most of the 38 House districts flipped by Democrats were in the further out suburbs.
After his talk, Dover answered questions. One person asked why the Democrats didn't pick up any urban House seats, since big cities lean leftward. His (obvious) answer: those districts already are in the Democratic camp, and rural areas are strongly Republican, so the suburbs became the battlefield that Democrats won in the midterms.
Twenty-one of the 38 House seats flipped by Democrats were won by women. Even more, women dominated in volunteering for campaigns and donating money. College-educated women were especially prone to vote Democratic in the midterms. Why? Because they are repulsed by Trump and they care deeply about health care.
By contrast, the GOP has been pandering to the NRA and religious right, while being anti-immigrant and climate change deniers.
The same pattern, Dover said, has been evident in Oregon.
The suburbs have led to Oregon House Democrats picking up nine seats in the last four elections, with a net gain of eight seats. This year the Dems won three more seats -- women in the suburbs. Democrats are likely to keep those suburban seats, Dover said, citing Paul Evans as an example.
After the 2020 census, Oregon is expected to pick up an extra House seat (with West Virginia losing one). This seat will be in western Oregon. The boundaries of Oregon legislative seats also will change, with fewer seats in eastern Oregon.
Dover said that Democrats now have won 10 races for Governor in a row, even though Knute Buehler almost ran as a Democrat.
Regarding the statewide ballot measures, where all but the affordable housing measure failed, Dover observed that it is typical for the Pro side to spend money early, then run out of money late, when the Con side increases its spending.
Looking ahead to the 2020 presidential race, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona are close to becoming "majority minority" states, as California is now. Dover observed that Democrats got 48% in both the Texas Senate race and Georgia Governor race, and in Arizona the Democratic Senate candidate is leading.
So Democrats are going to have a wider political playing field in the next presidential election.
In responding to questions, one of which I asked, Dover said:
-- When it comes to recounts, and voting generally, too many states are using 19th century technology, like punch cards. Counties have to pay for elections, and many are broke. So states and the federal government should pay for modernizing voting.
-- Florida is a strange state, as is Ohio. Their demographics are more important politically than who the Governor is. In various parts of Florida, you can find demographics similar to the Deep South, the Caribbean, Midwest, and East Coast -- because these parts attract people who move to Florida from those places.
-- The infamous "caravan" is being driven by people in central America impacted by climate change, as well as drug violence.
-- Though the Electoral College makes little sense, and is undemocratic (small population states get more votes per capita than large population states), nothing will change until Republicans lose a couple of presidential elections where they won the popular vote, as has happened to Democrats twice recently (Al Gore and Hillary Clinton).
-- Same-day voter registration doesn't make much of a difference, since people who fail to register weeks or months before an election probably won't register the day of an election.
-- MY QUESTION: Why are so many elections so darn close? Like almost 50-50. Does this have something to do with the action-reaction thing? Dover said that incumbents are hard to beat, but I didn't find this answer very satisfying, though it was true. After I asked it, a man sitting in front of me turned around and showed me what he'd written in his notebook: "Evolution."
Naturally I was curious about what he meant, so I spoke with him after Dover finished.
His idea is that we humans need each other, and we need variety -- like both liberals and conservatives. So the political pendulum swings back and forth, leftward and rightward, often landing right in the middle in races. In general, this makes sense to me.
I also like the action-reaction explanation, which fits with a pendulum analogy. When things go too far in one direction, like the crazy conservatism of Donald Trump, there's a desire among Americans to get things more in balance. As is well known, this typically happens in midterms, with the party that doesn't hold the presidency picking up seats in Congress.