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Lawmakers look back at 2016 election, ahead to 2018 and beyond with help of political analyst Harry Enten

by Jon Davis ~ August 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Harry Enten, senior political writer and analyst for the website FiveThirtyEight, shared observations on the 2016 election, some thoughts about the now-nigh 2018 midterm election, and — at some audience members’ requests — early thoughts on 2020.
2016: How the polls got it wrong
According to Enten, polls leading up to last year’s presidential election ended up being so wrong because they didn’t catch non-college-educated whites — at a time when educational attainment has become a major dividing line in our political life. Donald Trump won this part of the electorate over, and even Republicans based in urban centers such as New York City and Washington, D.C., missed this trend because most of them are college-educated.
Last year’s election also showed that Democrats face an “age gap” among their voters: Younger voters who came of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 don’t have the traditional fear of the word “socialism,” which helps explain the appeal of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But African-Americans remain the party’s base, Enten said, not supporters of Sanders.
Trump and Hillary Clinton were historically bad candidates from a popularity standpoint — “Is this the best that our country could do?” Enten asked — but the rise of Trump and Sanders also shows that “America is willing to listen to anything as long as it has an interesting face.”
And despite Trump’s comments about women, minorities and immigrants, he won a bigger percentage of African-American and Latino voters than Mitt Romney did in 2012.“Don’t make assumptions about him or who might support him,” Enten said.
2018: Advantage Democrats
The sitting president’s party has historically fared poorly in midterm elections, a fact that has Democrats hopeful that they will gain seats in the 2018 state and federal elections. Since the Civil War, there have been only three midterm elections in which the president’s party did not lose U.S. House seats; the average loss is 30 seats. When the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent, the loss of seats is even greater, Enten noted. Democrats need 24 to gain control of the U.S. House.
In addition, a “fairly high correlation” exists between a generic polling question to voters on a congressional race (“Will you vote for the Democrat or the Republican?” without naming specific candidates) and actual results. As of mid-July, that generic congressional ballot favors Democrats by six to seven points.
Though he said Democratic control of the U.S. House is probable after 2018, Enten expects fewer partisan changes in the U.S. Senate. Many of those races next year are in Republican-leaning states, and many incumbents get elected anyway. Enten is projecting a swing, in either direction, of only one or two seats.
“I expect gridlock will continue,” he added.
Between now and 2020, much attention will be paid to state-level races that determine which parties control legislatures and governors’ offices — and, as a result, the nation’s redistricting maps. Next year, 36 gubernatorial elections will be held, including every Midwestern state except Indiana and North Dakota.
Nationally, Enten said the map “looks pretty gosh-darn good for Democrats. ... What we should see are some losses on the Republican side in gubernatorial races.”
2020: Too early to tell much
Enten said he’s reluctant to predict anything about the 2020 presidential election at this point. The 2016 election was unusual because it was clear, even at the same point in that cycle, that the Democrats were going to nominate Clinton. For 2020, he said, who knows?
“I don’t really dismiss anyone at this particular time … It’s the most wide-open Democratic field since 1992.”
But whoever runs against Trump, he or she will need a coherent message that goes beyond “I’m not him.” Without that message, Enten said, Trump could win re-election.