Election Day may be over, but the results of the 2018 midterms are still coming in. The slow tallying in many races is due large part to voter suppression — one of the biggest stories of this election. The final results may take weeks, if not longer, to become clear. But we’ve been gathering our initial thoughts on some of this year’s biggest election takeaways — with updates to come as more races are called and more data comes out.
Inequality on the Agenda
Voters delivered the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party, and though we’re still waiting for the results of some races to come in they’ve already gained a majority in that chamber, despite their Senate losses. An analysis from the Progressive Change Institute shows that the party’s freshman class is embracing progressive economic solutions. Sixty-four percent of the new Democratic Party Caucus members support some combination of Medicare for All, a Medicare for All option, or expanding Social Security.
So who’s among the new crop of trailblazers heading to Washington to advance economic justice? We’ve profiled six women of color who won on their agendas to reduce inequality.
While congressional races garnered tons of attention, there were plenty of high-profile gubernatorial candidates as well. It’s clear voter suppression played — and continues to play — a large part in the holdup on the governor’s races in both Florida and Georgia. Both Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum are demanding every vote be counted. We’re still waiting for the results, but regardless of the outcome both candidates have already changed ideas about what’s possible in the South.
Meanwhile, another pair of gubernatorial races piqued our interest. Kansas voters have long been furious at former Governor Sam Brownback for slashing taxes and leaving the state’s residents without basic social services. That anger propelled Laura Kelley to the governorship. The state senator’s campaign, based largely on her opposition to Brownback’s failed tax experiment, won with Kansas voters, especially in comparison to the voter suppression and virulent racism of opponent Kris Kobach.
And to the joy of labor activists around the country, Wisconsin voters finally ousted union-bashing Governor Scott Walker. The state’s voters opted instead for former educator Tony Evers, who ran on a pro-labor platform. The Wisconsin governor, a darling of the Tea Party, became nationally notorious in 2011 for his moves to destroy healthcare, pensions, and collective bargaining rights for the state’s public employees. Walker survived massive protests in the statehouse as well as a recall election, but he was finally felled on Tuesday. Labor groups are hardly mourning his loss.
Some of the biggest results of the election may also be at the state and local level. Democrats flipped five legislative chambers on Tuesday. But some races even further down ballot offered dramatic sweeps. Harris County, for example, removed all of its Republican judges, offering criminal justice advocates the opportunity to finally do away with an unconstitutional cash bail system that’s deepened inequality in the Texas county.
Some state and local elections offered voters the chance to directly shape the policies that could bridge economic gaps. We took a look at several of the ballot initiatives addressing inequality on the state and local level, and zeroed in on a Baltimore city charter amendment that keeps the water system in public hands — and offers anti-inequality advocates some ideas on how to use preemption for progressive purposes.
As the Center for Responsive Politics anticipated, this year’s election was the most expensive midterm to date — at an estimated cost of $5.2 billion —- shattering campaign finance records. That includes records from individual donors — Sheldon and Miriam Adelson broke their own record for most spending from a household by giving $113 million to federal candidates.
How did all that money play out for the candidates? Congressional candidates with the most cash won most of the time, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — 91 percent of House candidates and 84 percent of Senate candidates with the most financial support ended up winning the seat.
Interestingly, two of the candidates we specifically mentioned in our midterm preview are in races that are still too close to call. Katie Porter, who made waves for refusing not only corporate PAC money, but direct donations from Wall Street employees, is within a few thousand votes in her attempt to unseat Mimi Walters. Meanwhile, Florida’s Rick Scott — the congressional candidate who put the most of his own money on the line in his campaign — is facing a recount in his race against Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.
While many of Scott’s fellow self-funders lost their races, there were a few high profile wins. Democrat David Trone won Maryland’s most expensive Congressional race after putting in $15 million to run. Republican Mike Braun ousted Senator Joe Donnelly from his seat with the help of $9.6 million of his own money — about 60 percent of his campaign’s finances. And Dianne Feinstein used more than $5 million of her personal fortune to fend off a challenge from fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon.
Self-funded campaigns were also a story at the state level as well, particularly in Illinois. The gubernatorial race there turned into a battle of the billionaires as incumbent Bruce Rauner was toppled by J.B. Pritzker, a member of one of America’s wealth dynasties. Unsurprisingly, the two turned the Illinois race into the most expensive governor’s race in the country. Pritzker put $171 million of his own cash towards the election, though he shared some with other Dems, and Rauner spent half that amount himself — a total of about $72 per vote for Pritzker and $46 for Rauner. Now that he’s been elected, Pritzker promises to advocate for campaign finance reform, and Illinois progressives have already said they plan on holding him accountable on his promises.
While data is trickling out about the turnout and logic of 2018’s voting pool, it’ll be some time before we have concrete information on voters by income. While exit polling is notoriously imprecise, there are still a few trends we can glean.
A spike in youth turnout is becoming one of the defining stories of these midterms. Thirty-one percent of people between the ages of 18 to 29 came out to vote, according to data from Tufts University. That turnout — the highest in a quarter century — proved decisive in several key races, including the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin and Nevada’s Senate race.
What were the biggest issues for voters? Preliminary exit polls found that healthcare was overwhelmingly most important, followed by immigration and the economy.
An NBC exit poll also showed a poor reception for the Trump tax cuts passed last year. Just 29 percent of voters say they benefited from the changes, compared to the 45 percent who say they’ve seen no effect and the 22 percent who’ve been hurt by them. And the polls offer another way to examine the deepening inequality of the tax cuts. NBC also found that voters with household incomes over $100,000 were twice as likely to say they’d benefited from the tax cuts than voters from households with incomes under $30,000.
While Democrats have landed a comfortable majority in the House, their lack of power in the Senate and executive branch means it’ll be more than difficult for them to concretely advance a legislative agenda. But the lead in the House offers Democrats control over committee leadership and the opportunity to show Americans what their governing priorities would be should they gain more control over the legislative process in 2020.
We’ve highlighted just a few of the bold proposals we’d like to see Democrats push onto the House floor ahead of the next election. And, as progressive activist Robert Borosage wrote in The Nation, the key is to also use congressional hearings to expose excess and predation in Washington.
“Democrats need to shine a light on how entrenched interests and Big Money have used the Trump administration to rig the rules in ways that hurt working people: rolling back worker rights, trampling environmental protections, and fleecing students and consumers,” Borosage says. “And the moment requires using hearings and legislation to show that, in key areas—Medicare for all, tuition-free college, rebuilding America green, criminal-justice and immigration reform, anti-corruption legislation, and more—there is an alternative.”