The US electoral system is a clusterfuck. Cluster, literally, because a large fraction of the Democratic voters are clustered across states and congressional districts, giving Republicans a huge geographical advantage. Let's remind ourselves what happened in 2016.
- 65.9 million people voted for Clinton
- 63 million people voted for Trump
- Before the midterms yesterday, 180.8 million people were represented by 49 Democratic senators whereas 141.7 were represented by Republican senators, giving Republicans the majority in the Senate
- Let's also not forget that more than 600.000 people in the District of Colombia and some 2 million people in Puerto Rico do not have representation in either the House or the Senate (this is also true for some smaller territories like Guam in the Pacific.
See here: https://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/10/remind-yourself-representation.html
Despite having some 2.9 million lesser votes, Trump was elected president of the United States because of how the electoral college works. Trump won three key swing states in the Rust Belt and Mid-West, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. He won all of those three states together with some 80.000 votes in total (out of about 129 million votes cast in the 2016 election), thus giving Trump an electoral college advantage of 304 votes to Clinton's 227.
These 80.000 votes correspond to about 0.07% of all the votes cast during the Presidential Election of 2016 (so less than 1/1000 votes were decisive). Because of the winner takes all system that is the electoral college, votes in most states are basically meaningless. California and the West coast states will be blue, Texas and the South are pretty much red, etc. The marginal voter in the US electing the US president is sitting in just a handful of key swing states whereas casting a vote in the majority of states will have virtually zero effect on the election outcome.
It is a handful of voters in the swing states that elect the US president, and in 2016 they decided to reject globalization and frankly common sense, and went full-out for identity politics (and racism).
What happened in 2016 can be better understood after reading the autobiographical book "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance. He offers a depressing account of the Appalachia region, which was formerly part of the Industrial heartland of the US. The region stretches from Pennsylvania all the way down to Georgia and Alabama.
Many of those states have experienced regional industrial decline for several decades now. While economists have known for a long-time that globalization produces winners and losers, the net benefits were supposed to outweigh the costs (they largely do), but also the winners were supposed to compensate the losers (of course, this largely does not happen). Many towns experienced a sharp decline as deindustrialization proceeded. Both companies and the better educated left, leaving despair and social and economic anxiety behind. As this part of the country was left behind, people succumbed to opioid crisis that has swept across many states. It is voters in this region that turned to Trump in 2016 and gave him the victory.
As for this year's midterms, there was certainly a Blue Wave, but not all is well. While the senate race in both Florida and even Texas with Beto O'Rourke was surprisingly competitive, it looks like Republicans actually won both of these races. The senate map was hugely unfavorably for Democrats and Republicans picked up 3 senate seats in North Dakota, Missouri, and Alabama. Democrats picked up a senate seat in Nevada. Even though 45.5 million people voted for Democratic senators and only 33 million people voted for Republican senators, Republicans will most likely end up with gaining 2 Senate seats on net, meaning that there will be 53 Republican senators.
Things look much better when it comes to the gubernatorial races. Democrats picked up 7 Governor seats, some of them being quite important and also in states where Democrats lost the election in 2016:
- 3 in the Rust Belt: Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan.
- 3 in the Mid-West: Kansas, New Mexico, and Nevada.
- And also Maine.
These seats will end up being quite important because state governors in the US have quite an important role and can affect crucial policies, ranging from health care to gerrymandering. 25 Democratic governors will thus represent some 200 million people whereas 25 Republican governors represent only 130 million people.
When it comes to the House, Democrats needed a popular vote margin of about 5-7% to win majority in Congress, again reflecting the geographic disadvantage that Democrats face, both a result of gerrymandering but also a result of Democratic voters clustering in the big cities and rich urban suburbs. And Democrats needed to flip 23 seats in the House to gain a majority.
We know now that Democrats have picked up 26 seats for sure and gained their majority. Some seat races are still left open, but it is expected that they will gain another 9 seats or so, ending up with a total of 229 Democratic seats to 207 Republican seats in the House
(see here for more: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/06/us/elections/results-dashboard-live.html)
One last word about Nate Silver's 538 real-time forecast model, because something really did not add up and Brad DeLong has some questions as well. By the start of the election, the model gave Democrats a more than 85% chance of winning the House, and expected them to gain on average some 34 seats or so.
The the first results came in and by about 8 pm Eastern Time, the model shifted strongly towards the other side, suddenly giving Republicans almost a 60% chance of defending the House (and thus almost giving me a heart attack in the middle of the night here in Europe). About an hour later, the model shifted back and by the end of the evening it roughly ended up where it started, with Democrats having a roughly 85% chance of winning the House. Note that some of the prediction markets seem to have behaved in a similar fashion (maybe because they just mirror the results from 538).
This excess volatility in the model does not really make sense. The sudden and really large shift that occurred in the beginning of the evening should not have taken place. It looks like the model took the behavior of Southern White voters whose results came in early in the night and extrapolated from there. It would be really interesting to know why the model behaved like it did as we still lack a reasonable explanation from Nate Silver and Co.
1) Michigan accepted to legalize recreational Marijuana.
2) Missouri and Utah accepted to legaliza medical Marijuana.
3) Arkansas and Misssouri raised the minimum wage.
4) Nebraska, Idaho, and Utah voted for Medicaid expansion.
The country is slowly but surely becoming more progressive. This includes the state of Texas, which is almost purple now. Florida made sure that some additional 1.4 million people (former criminals) will not be disenfranchised anymore and will be allowed to vote. This could be a big deal for 2020. Were it not for everybody's racist old grandparents retiring in the Sunshine State, then Florida would be blue by now.