November 7, 2018

A good column title "How to argue about whether these midterms were a 'blue wave.'"

That's for a piece by Colby Itkowitz at WaPo.

She's ignoring the question whether we should argue about whether these midterms were a "blue wave." In my perfunctory live-blog of the results last night, I said, mid-evening, "Seems fair to say it’s not a 'blue wave.'" Time stamp: 7:51 CT. Does that mean I want to argue about it?

I think Itkowitz is offering arguments for people who want to contend that it was a "blue wave." I think these people are like Trump and other Republicans who want to claim "tremendous success" for themselves. I'm not impressed by any of it. As I said in my live blog, "But I always assume things will be boring!" And I always assume things are boring, and I react very slowly, if not actively negatively, to efforts to nudge me to get excited and to think something huge is happening.

Is it in the interest of Democrats to fight over the label? Should they even respond if they're taunted by people like me saying it wasn't a wave? Maybe the "wave" spin is helpful in justifying a highly active House majority in the next 2 years, but then what if they're held to account for not doing enough with the power and authority represented by the idea that it was a wave? There was a wave, you said it was a wave, but you did not surf it. Shouldn't they manage expectations?

Itkowitz has a good, succinct list of arguments for those who want to argue that was a "wave." Example:
As of the early hours Wednesday morning, Democrats were projected to win the national popular vote by nearly 9 percentage points, which is greater than the Republican “waves” in 1994, 2010 and 2014 and the Democratic “wave” in 2006. If those elections were waves, then this one is, too.
That idea of "the national popular vote" is a good way to focus on what happened in the House races. The Senate races only covered some of the states, so the total there is more of a random number, based on which one-third of the seats happened to be up this time, and the states are all different sizes.

On Itkowitz's not-a-wave list of arguments, there's:
The massive repudiation of Trump that Democrats hoped for simply didn’t happen. In fact, in many states where Trump campaigned hard for Republicans, it seems the opposite occurred. He focused throughout the campaign on saving the Senate for the GOP, and it appears his efforts paid off.
I think the how-to-argue list is helpful in deciding whether to argue (and I'm guessing Itkowitz knew that and was really implicitly answering the question I said she "ignored").

63 comments:

FleetUSA said...

Trump can do a lot with his pen

Kay said...

As I said in a comment on another post, both parties put up a great fight and should pat themselves on the back. There is something positive in these results for both democrats and republicans.

Seeing Red said...

That idea of "the national popular vote" is a good way to focus on what happened in the House races.


Already read that and no it’s not.

Especially when the vote is blue on blue.

bagoh20 said...

Better title: "How to lie about the mid-terms and shine in the bubble"

gilbar said...

of the incumbents that lost, how many were strong Trump supporters?
Other than Claire McCaskill (heh heh) I'm not sure i can think of any
Someone help me out?
I'm Sure there were House guys that were, but here in iowa, the losers were pretty indifferent to Trump, except for King (who WON)

rehajm said...

Focus on the popular vote in national elections makes you the Russell Hantz of politics.

Bob Boyd said...

I suggest an alternative, fluid-based metaphor: Did the water level in the swamp rise or fall?

If it didn't rise, at least some of the drainage channels Trump was trying to dig are now dammed up.

roesch/voltaire said...

It seems more like a strong rainbow ripple.

Tank said...

Dems gained about historical amount for midterm, but lost ground in the Senate. So, not any wave. Just muddling along. Boring, as "someone" said. The next two years will not be boring because: (1) Trump and (2) a lot of crazies in leadership in the House now.

Saint Croix said...

Young Kim is rocking in Cali. She can be a rapper with that name! Hot, too (of course, Republican women are always babes).

51.4% Kim
48.6% Cisneros

97% reporting

Mia Love, who can also be a rapper with that name, is trailing in Utah. They've got insane lines in Utah, apparently. Only 68% reporting so far.

51.3% McAdams
48.7% Love

The left hates them both so I'm pulling hard for them.

tim in vermont said...

Once again, Democrats win a game nobody was playing.

Henry said...

What the Democrats have going for them is the governorships they picked up. If they can push forward on the state level in the next few elections, they actually have a chance to control redistricting.

Bob Boyd said...

How to move the goal post after the game is over.

Saint Croix said...

Also, in my own state, North Carolina, we passed all the Constitutional amendments I voted for, and rejected all the Constitutional amendments I voted against. It's like I'm unified with my peeps! Rockin' in NC.

Boring, too, because we had no Governor race and no Senator race, and my district is gerrymandered to keep me oppressed for the House.

Oh and the Dems managed to sneak in an extra "Republican" to divide the Republican vote for the North Carolina Supreme Court. That was diabolical and annoying shit! But I knew that one ahead of time. So our election was rocking and boring simultaneously. Rocking in a rocking chair, that's us.

bagoh20 said...

Hey, silver lining. Maybe the results are just what we all needed. They let both sides claim victory. Hopefully the left will be able to cut back on the therapy, drugs and eating binges. I hope, becuase I love.

David Begley said...

There is no national popular vote. There never has been. Another lie from the Dems. Pure spin. Fake news.

Kevin said...

Blue wave? Fake news.

Ipso Fatso said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

In my state of Nevada it was a complete disappointment. I moved here to get away from exactly what we just did here. California is a disease, and some victims of it just won't take the cure. They choose to be vectors like infected rats jumping off the ship here.

Christopher said...

The attempt to claim that this constitutes a wave election is basically just them angry that the Reps. aren't freaking out.

They wanted to see distraught republicans, they wanted to see tears, they wanted to see the Trump administration have to respond to why they're so unpopular. Instead all they got was a normal midterm result for the House and a beating in the Senate.

Anyway I think this all boils down to the rule about jokes, it's not funny if you have to explain it. In this case it's not a wave election if you have to explain why it is.

Ipso Fatso said...

'That idea of "the national popular vote" is a good way to focus on what happened in the House races.' --Althouse

Which has nothing to do with the Constitution as currently constructed and is precisely the reason that the D's are so focused on it. They want to prove how popular they are, and by proxy, how unpopular Trump is. They did gain seats, fair enough. Let's see how they handle the next two years in power. My take is that they will blow it and over play their hand, just like they did with the Kavanugh hearing. Two other points: 1) Many D's ran on an anti-Pelosi plank, my guess is that they will fold and soon. 2) The R's lost 38 or more Reps to retirement with most of those being never-Trumpers or anti-Trumpers. Now both the Senate and the R's in the House will be very much more pro-Trump.

Chris of Rights said...

I think it's fair to say it was a blue wave in the House. This is the most House seats the Democrats have picked up in an off year election since 1974.

Since 1970, the average number of seats picked up by the opposition party in the first off year election following the election of a new President is 24. The Democrats are likely to exceed that by about 10. The Democrats in particular have not faired all that well in such scenarios, picking up 12 in 1970, 26 in 1982, 7 in 1990, and even losing 8 in 2002. So, their average in these cases is a mere +9, which they exceeded greatly.

I'd call it a wave. Not a huge wave, but I don't think any sane person is calling it that, but definitely a wave.

Saint Croix said...

it's not a wave election if you have to explain why it is.

I saw some people trying to surf in the Atlantic Ocean once. Not a hurricane or anything like that. Just a normal day in the Atlantic Ocean.

"Oh, here it comes! Six footer!"

tcrosse said...

It's a step toward restoring the status quo ante Obama.

Fernandistein said...

"How to argue about whether these midterms were a 'blue wave.'"

That's easy - just play word games with poorly defined terms like "blue wave".

Lucid-Ideas said...

The House of Representatives has always been referred to as the "lesser house" for a reason...

Much of what goes on there is bluster and hot-air, chest-puffing, and fiery partisanship that goes nowhere, signifying nothing. The 6 year term limit of the senate is 10x more valuable as retaining wall than the 2 years of the House and Trump knows this. He chose to die on the hill that matters, that hill being likely re-election in 20' with a crop of house candidates that will be swept in on the wave.

That coupled with the potential for Ginsburg's passing in the next 6 years, Republicans could have some really long-lasting influence for decades to come. Good.

Saint Croix said...

A good column title:

Why Do We Love Beto? Is It Because He's a White Male?

tim maguire said...

I think we have a duty as Americans to mercilessly ridicule anyone who talks about a "popular vote" that they arrive at by simply adding up all the different votes, as though that reflects what we would have gotten in a popular vote scenario.

Bay Area Guy said...

1994: Reps win House & Senate - Red Tidal Wave

2006: Dems win House &!Senate - Blue Tidal Wave

2010: Reps win House, Dems retain Senate - Split decision

* note: Obama described getting "Shellacked" which exaggerated the GOP win. But the GOP House effectively stopped Obama from passing any legislation for the next 6 years, so again, the effect was magnified.

2018: Dems win House, Reps win Senate - Split decision

tim in vermont said...

Traditionally the term "wave election" has meant a large shift in power, like 2006 or 1994. Calling this a wave is like calling a moderate snowfall a blizzard because both involve snow. But we all know what Democrats do when a definition doesn't suit them. This was a standard issue mid term House election and a significant red shift in the Senate. 12 R bedwetter congressmen don't retire and the R's might have held the house.

rehajm said...

In my state of Nevada it was a complete disappointment. I moved here to get away from exactly what we just did here.

Many of your neighbors back in CA moved there to get away from what you did too. Now they miss it and want to recreate it there.

Seeing Red said...


I think it's fair to say it was a blue wave in the House. This is the most House seats the Democrats have picked up in an off year election since 1974.


Except the House was blue until 1993. The House stayed blue even with Reagan’s blowout.

So they were only picking up more blue seats.

tim in vermont said...

I think that Beto's appeal is more the Ivy League Irishman who identifies as Hispanic. The gigolo thing with the piles of money was just a bonus. Plus the rent boy good looks.

Roy Jacobsen said...

Talking about "the national popular vote" for Senate and House seats is like saying that all of Custer's men at Little Big Horn had great marksmanship.

tim in vermont said...

The Democrats held the house for sixty years, so it's not a fair comparison. It a return to status quo, their punishment for Obamacare is now sort of over in the House, but wave has always implied a broad shift both houses.

Sebastian said...

"The massive repudiation of Trump that Democrats hoped for simply didn’t happen. In fact, in many states where Trump campaigned hard for Republicans, it seems the opposite occurred. He focused throughout the campaign on saving the Senate for the GOP, and it appears his efforts paid off."

True, and that counts as a "tremendous success."

But the blue ripple was also real and the GOP will have to adapt. Nikki Haley to the rescue.

rightguy said...

There actually was a blue wave last night -in terms of the large absolute democrat turnout- but the Kavanaugh hearings potentiated a countervailing red wave.

Thank you, Chuck Schumer !

Unknown said...

“Appears” to have paid off? It paid off big times. Just wait until he gets to nominate RBG’s replacement.

Saint Croix said...

Just wait until he gets to nominate RBG’s replacement.

I hope he nominates a woman so at least the insanity will have a different vibe.

"She's not a woman!"

"She's a hooker!"

"She hates birth control and we will be overrun with children and Papists!"

"She used to be a witch!"

Florence said...

Although the idea of a “national popular vote” with respect to the house isn’t nearly as idiotic as with reference to the senate, it’s still completely meaningless. Even ignoring the point made by others that it’s simply “not how any of this works” by design, the house vote (unlike the vote for say, the president) was 435 individual Jane Doe vs Jane Smith elections. How many Republicans would love to vote for Devin Nunes but would never vote for Steve King or the nazi Illinois idiot? And how many of those seats were Democrat v. democrat? And how many had comptetive third party candidates? Etc. You can’t just tally all of those votes up as generic republican and generic democrat in order to provide a “we win the popularity contest” talking point.

Leland said...

Blue wave or not; the Senate and Gubernatorial elections suggest Trump will have a great shot at a second term. In the meantime, all of the Democrat gains in the House will be up for re-election in just 2 years. A lot of those new Representatives will need to vote like moderates to retain their seat.

Chuck said...

Althouse, I think that the way to "argue" about these midterm results is that the political pollsters, who many of your commenters love to ridicule, and who you have wrongly pronounced as having gotten the 2016 election terribly wrong, were mostly spot-on in this election.

I can think of very few races among a great many that didn't turn out as predicted.
The pollsters were right!

Bay Area Guy said...

We are quickly gonna forget about this, as various Dems start announcing their presidential runs.

The permanent campaign!

Jeff said...

My theory of midterm elections is that

(i) The President dominates the news, and voters get to know him pretty well.

(ii) Senators get much less news coverage, but they still get enough for voters to know at least something about them, like whether or not they voted for Kavanaugh. So Senate midterm elections have a lot to do with both the quality of the candidates and their issues.

(iii) Candidates for the House get almost no news coverage and (aside from incumbency advantages) voters decide on a House candidate based on how they feel about the President. And Presidents get so much media coverage that people eventually get sick of them. When that happens, their party loses heavily in the House midterms. Presidents who constantly draw attention to themselves, like Clinton, Obama and Trump, end up losing heavily in their first midterm. If a President is more restrained in his publicity-seeking, like Nixon, Carter and both Bushes, the heavy losses are delayed until their second midterm.

Yancey Ward said...

Not a bad theory, Jeff. I do think the Kavanaugh hearings were probably what prevented the Democrats from winning control of that body- so some senators got a lot more publicity than they wanted a month before the election, and I think it surely cost the Democrats the seats in AZ, FL, and probably MO. It might even have cost them TX given how close that state was. Even IN might have been held absent that clusterfuck of a hearing.

tim in vermont said...

I don't remember reading about the Republican Senate gains.

rehajm said...

"She's not a woman!"

"She's a hooker!"

"She hates birth control and we will be overrun with children and Papists!"

"She used to be a witch!"


She turned me into a newt!

(I got better)

elkh1 said...

Beto won the popular votes of California, and is "f#cking proud" of the support in New York.

Cruz, as unpopular as he was in Illinois, won the Texan popular votes, nevertheless, and "shall return" to Washington DC. He was definitely not "f#cking proud" of the almost non-existing support in Massachusetts.

Jeff said...

Yancey, the theory predicts that issues like the Kavanaugh vote would have an effect on Senate races, but not on House races. And I think that's what we saw.

tim in vermont said...

I guess we will have to go back and change what we called '94 and '06 because the Democrats were promised a "wave."

tim in vermont said...

Maybe we could call this a "dead cat bounce."

Jeff Hall said...

The author's argument sounds like an egghead version of Trump's widely ridiculed inauguration-crowd-size brags. Dumb things don't become smarter when you use big words.

tim in vermont said...

https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2010/results/house/big-board.html

Rs picked up 63 seats in 2010, still wasn't a wave because they didn't take the Senate. Democrats don't have those seats back, either. Democrats were at 256.

Balfegor said...

Re: tim in vermont:

I guess we will have to go back and change what we called '94 and '06 because the Democrats were promised a "wave."

Sure, we can upgrade 1994 to "tsunami," so this can be a "wave." That's . . . I actually think that's probably about right. 1994 was the first time Republicans gained a majority in the House in 40 years. So that was pretty dramatic. 2006, on the other hand, was about the same as this -- I think Democrats are actually gaining more House seats than they did in 2006 (~35 vs. 31, although they did gain 6 Senate seats in 2006, rather than losing them as they did yesterday). Net-net, I think calling both 2006 and 2018 a "wave" is okay, complicated mostly by Republicans' success in the Senate in 2018. Did you mean 2010? Because that one -- the worst midterm losses by a President's party since 1948, I think -- really was a "tsunami."

Static Ping said...

I think the main problem here is "wave" does not have a definition. Some people have gotten so obsessed with the promised "blue wave" without really understanding what that means and, not really having thought it through originally, are now desperate to justify that it exists. Conclusion first, justification later. They wanted a "blue wave" so this will have to qualify. It is much like Lincoln wanting a victory to precede the release of the Emancipation Proclamation and then having to settle on the indecisive (but bloody) Antietam. The thing is Lincoln knew Antietam was not some great victory but it would do, while the "blue wave" seems to be believed without any self-awareness.

Jim at said...

I think it's fair to say it was a blue wave in the House. This is the most House seats the Democrats have picked up in an off year election since 1974.

That's because 40-some Republicans retired.

You can call it wave if you want. Doesn't make it so.

tim in vermont said...

In 2006 Democrats took control of the legislative branch with impressive wins in the Senate even in red states. Waves override normal political geography. That's the metaphor, the levees give way. This year I think some of those anomalous wins were finally undone.

tim in vermont said...

Maybe it's a return to the mean election. Rs are finally off punishment for the Iraq War and Democrats are let off for pushing through Obamacare.

Static Ping said...

So let's try to define "wave."

DEFINITION #1: An election when the benefiting party wins an abnormal number of seats.

DEFINITION #2: An election when the benefiting party wins an abnormal number of seats compared to expectations.

DEFINITION #3: An election when one party gains control of both houses of Congress, flipping at least one of them, while gaining a significant, though perhaps not historically unusual, number of seats.

This election does not qualify under any of those definitions. The Democratic gains in the House were, all in all, above average but not shocking nor unexpected. The fact that they have lost multiple seats in the Senate and do not control the Senate does not really jive with any of these definitions. If "wave" is meant to mean something special, this is not that special.

Static Ping said...

As to the thought that the House results are a wave, ignoring the Senate results, that seems dubious. The examples given for comparison are 1970, 1982, 1990, and 2002. In 1970 and 1982, the Democrats already controlled 243 seats (+51), and in 1990 they already controlled 260 (+85). There is only so many seats that can be gained when you have that large of a majority, and the effective difference between controlling a 51 seat majority and a 77 seat majority is basically negligible. It is barely worth the effort. We've only really had two comparable elections where the Democrats were out of power, which is a small sample size to declare anything to be anything.

The Democrats had an above average election for the House, some of which was driven by unusual circumstances (a large number of Republican retirements), which is notable but not really "special" as a "wave" indicates.

Steven said...

Sorry, no, it's not a wave election when you lose ground in half of Congress. The Republicans didn't just "save" their Senate majority, they expanded it.

DEEBEE said...

If it takes a wave to overcome 23. What would it take to overcome the resulting 13 or 14

Unknown said...

Aren't some of the percentages significantly skewed by the fact that every vote in the Cal. Senate race was cast for a Democrat?
Shouldn't all such figures be adjusted to reflect districts in which the seat was uncontested?
Sorry to learn you are retiring.
I learned a lot from your Federalism scholarship.
Sincerely,
Michael E.Libonati
Em.Prof. of law
Temple University