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Why Democrats’ Gain Was More Impressive Than It Appears

The New York Times  |  08 November 2018  |  News

It wasn’t necessarily the night of either party’s dreams. The Democrats are poised to gain around 35 seats after Tuesday’s elections. Republicans seem likely to gain a few seats in the Senate, and they triumphed in some high-profile governor’s races.

But Democrats faced formidable structural disadvantages, unlike any in recent memory. Take those into account, and 2018 looks like a wave election, like the ones that last flipped the House in 2010 and 2006.

In the House, where the Democrats had their strongest showing, it’s impressive they managed to fare as well as they did. In a sense, Republicans had been evacuated to high ground, away from the beach.

At the beginning of the cycle, only nine Republicans represented districts that tilted Democratic in the previous two presidential elections. Even in a wave election, these are usually the only incumbents who are standing on the beach with a greater than 50 percent chance to lose.

There were 24 such Republicans in 2006, and 67 such Democrats in 2010.

Democrats had so few opportunities because of partisan gerrymandering and the tendency for the party to win by lopsided (and thus inefficient) margins in urban areas. It gave Republicans a chance to survive a hostile national political climate that would have doomed prior parties. By some estimates, Republicans could have survived while losing the popular vote by nearly a double-digit margin.

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