It’s been a week since the 2018 election. And while there are 10 House races – and a Senate race (hello, Florida?) – still not called, we now have a very good sense of who voted, why they voted and what it tells us about the electorate both now and moving forward.
We have that sense because of the exit poll, a survey taken of almost 18,000 voters after they cast their ballots on Election Day. (For an explanation of exit polling and why it’s so useful in understanding voters, check this out.)
Below are my big takeaways from the national House exit poll, which you can see – and sift through – yourself here.
In the national House exit poll, Republicans got crushed among young people – taking just 32% as compared to 67% for Democrats among those aged 18 to 29. But it’s more than just the youngest segment of the electorate where Republicans are struggling. Among voters aged 18-44 – at 42 years old myself, I’d say that includes people who are no spring chickens – Democrats took 61%, while Republicans got just 36%.
2. White women are swing votes
1. Republicans have an age problem
One of President Donald Trump’s saving graces in the 2016 election was white women, who made up 37% of the electorate and voted for him over Hillary Clinton by 9 points. In Tuesday’s election, white women again made up 37% of the electorate, but this time they split their votes: 49% for Democrats, 49% for Republicans.
3. More people (still) identify as Democrats
Asked what party they identify with by exit pollsters, 37% said Democrats, 33% said Republicans and 30% called themselves independents. Those numbers were very similar to where party ID was in 2016: 36% Democratic, 33% Republican and 31% independent.
4. Democrats made gains among married women
In 2016, Trump lost married women by only 2 points. In 2018, Republicans lost them by 10 – perhaps a sign of the broader erosion for Republicans – due in large part to Trump – in the suburbs. Democrats continued to absolutely dominate among unmarried women; 66% voted for Democratic candidates for the House while just 31% voted for Republicans.
5. Mothers were major Democratic voters
I haven’t seen the electorate broken down by “mothers” and “fathers” ever before, but the result is interesting! Mothers made up 16% of the overall electorate and went for Democrats by 60%-39%. Fathers? Republicans won them by 2 points.
6. Almost 1 in 5 voters were new
Fully 16% of respondents said that 2018 was the first midterm election they had ever voted in. Some of those are young people who turned 18 sometime between 2014 and 2018, but lots more were part of Democrats’ attempts to broaden the electorate. It worked; first-time midterm voters chose Democratic candidates by 26 points over Republicans.
7. Haters of Trump > Lovers of Trump
Overall, 45% of people said they approved of Trump as President while 54% disapproved. But dig into the numbers and you see that those who dislike Trump strongly outpace those who strongly like him. Almost half of the public (46%) strongly disapproves of Trump while 31% strongly approve of him. Given how big a factor Trump was in voters’ minds (38% said their vote was to show opposition to Trump, 26% said it was to express support for him), the passion the President brought out in his opponents clearly influenced the overall outcome.
8. The impeachment divide is real
Fewer 4 in 10 (39%) said that Congress should move to impeach Trump. But of those who support imeachment, 92% of them voted for Democrats, which shows significant support within the Democratic base for impeachment. That disparity speaks to the challenge before expected incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) as she navigates her caucus’ politics. Pelosi, who has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the idea of impeachment, will have to deal with her party’s base (and a not-insubstantial number of her House Democratic colleagues), which believes that trying to impeach Trump is beyond debate. (Worth noting here: Even if House Democrats did move to impeach Trump, there’s a zero percent chance the Republican-controlled Senate wold follow suit and convict him.
9. We’re united about our divisions
There’s not a whole hell of a lot of agreement between the two parties in the exit poll. But one place where most people (76%) agree is that the country is growing more divided. Just 9% said we were getting more united – sidebar: Who ARE these people? – and 13% said we aren’t changing in any meaningful way when it comes to partisanship.
10. This was (another) health care election
More than 4 in 10 voters (41%) named health care as the most important issue facing the country. That was almost double the number who named immigration (23%) and the economy (22%) and four times as much as those who said gun policy (10%). What those numbers mean is that the last three midterm elections – 2010, 2014 and 2018 – were primarily decided on health care. The first two of those elections worked in Republicans’ favor; this one broke for Democrats. One other stat on health care from the exit polls: 69% of people said the current system needs “major changes.”
11. It wasn’t the economy, stupid
A remarkable 68% of voters said the economy was either in “excellent” or “good” shape. And yet Democrats scored across-the-board gains in House races, with their ultimate seat pickup looking closer to 40 seats than 30 seats. Why? Because this wasn’t an election about the economy. It was an election about health care, yes, and also about how people – and women in particular – viewed the basic idea of Trump as President.
12. The Russia investigation is seen through a political lens
One of the most surprising findings for me is that more people believe the ongoing probe into Russia interference in the 2016 election is “politically motivated” (54%) than believe it to be “mostly justified” (41%). Those numbers were obviously split starkly on partisan lines – Democrats believe the probe is justified, Republicans think it is political – but it’s clear from the numbers that Trump’s “witch hunt” mantra has had an effect.
13. Voter suppression > voter fraud
A majority of respondents (53%) said they were more worried that “some people will be prevented from voting” while just 36% said their primary concern was that “some people will cast illegitimate votes.” Those findings come despite the fact that Trump repeatedly pushed the idea of voter fraud in the runup to the election – seemingly ignoring the reams of data that suggest there really is no such thing as widespread voter fraud.
14. Democrats are rocking the suburbs
Suburban voters, as they have in most recent elections, made up a majority of all voters last Tuesday. But unlike recent elections, they split their votes evenly – 49% for Democrats, 49% for Republicans. In the last midterm election in 2014, Republicans won suburban voters by 12 points. In 2016, Trump won them by just 2. Karl Rove, the former chief strategist for President George W. Bush, hit the nail on the head – telling an audience in Georgia over the weekend that Republicans “can’t replace all of those people by simply picking up farm country and the Iron range of Minnesota because, frankly, there’s more growth in suburban areas than there is in rural areas.”