President Donald Trump likely will share the nation’s capital with a Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, a veteran congressional elections forecaster said at the American Sugar Alliance’s International Sweetener Symposium this week in Traverse City, Mich.
For the 435 House races, statistics compiled by David Wasserman, the House elections analyst at the Cook Political Report, portray a numerical toss-up.
First, he said, “political geography favors” Republican candidates, owing to the success of Republican-controlled state legislatures in gerrymandering congressional districts in their party’s favor. The result of all the district remapping, he said, is that Democratic candidates must get 7 to 8 percent more votes nationally to win half of the House races.
Wasserman says highly gerrymandered districts have created a preponderance of “landslide districts” for both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, which rewards them politically for narrowly serving their voter base and avoiding compromise. In 2016 House races, he said, “70 percent of Americans cast their ballots in landslide neighborhoods.”
The polarized districts, he said, “work to the detriment of congressional committees to work in a bipartisan manner” to pass legislation such as the farm bill, he said.
Yet, despite GOP success in mapping districts as they wanted, Democratic candidates for special elections that were held to fill vacancies in 2017 and 2018 have won, on average, 8 percent more votes, so they appear to be balancing the statistical scales.
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Wasserman, however, thinks Democrats will take the majority of House seats. That’s because so many citizens voted Republican in 2016 because of Donald Trump, but there is no presidential election this year. In addition, Hillary Clinton, whom many went to the polls to vote against two years ago, is not on the ballot.
Further, he says women, who tend as a group to vote Democratic, are especially motivated to run for election and to vote. In fact, half of the candidates running for open House seats are women, he pointed out.
“We’re not talking about just a gender gap in 2018, we’re talking about a gender canyon,” Wasserman said.
The Senate, meanwhile, “is going to be decided by red (Republican-leaning) rural states, where Democrats are on defense,” Wasserman said. There, he suggested, Republicans many increase their one-vote majority to two or three in this election.
Wasserman observed that Democratic senators in 26 states face re-election in November, compared with just nine Republican senators. What’s more, several of the Democrats are from heavily Republican-leaning states, such as Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, and it’s unlikely all of them will win.
For congressional races nationwide, Wasserman reports a yawning gap between predominantly liberal and independent suburbanites, whom he called Whole Foods voters, and rural folks, labeled as Cracker Barrel voters because those stores are found mostly in rural communities and small cities.
Trump won 76 percent of the Cracker Barrel vote, and that margin included a lot of white males who traditionally vote Democratic, Wasserman said. Nearly 40 percent of those Trump Democratic voters think free trade is more bad than good for the U.S. economy, so they won’t favor congressional Republicans, who are known generally as free-trade advocates.
Even worse for Republican lawmakers, he said, is that Pew Research Center polling found 73 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning voters also think a tariff war with U.S. trading partners is good for the American economy.
That trend is “adding to the Republican heartburn” in this year’s congressional elections, he said.
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