When the Levee Breaks

With appropriate attribution to Led Zepplin, we find ourselves less than a year from the 2018 elections in a moment when it appears that there is a Democratic wave election building.

First let’s look at the evidence.

Then let’s speculate on why.

Harry Enten of the FiveThirtyEight blog printed an excellent analysis of where the two parties are today and how that compares to past off year elections.

A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data).

These results are reflected in the larger aggregated poll that FiveThirtyEight produces.

What does that mean?

At this same point in time in 2006, Republicans were in the majority in Congress and Bush II was in his second Presidential term mired down in the Iraq war. Republicans trailed Democrats in the generic ballot poll by 10%. The Democrats gained control of the House and the Senate. That year they won 31 net seats. In 2018, they only need to win 24 seats to regain a majority.

We’re still nearly a year away from the midterm elections, however. And voter preferences at this point can change dramatically by election day; the average difference between the congressional ballot at this point and the final result is about 9 percentage points. But most large shifts on the generic ballot from this point onward have occurred against the party that holds the White House. Once you take into account who holds the White House, the generic ballot at this point is usually predictive of the midterm House result.

Here’s some of the why.

63% of voters think that the economy is good or excellent. Less than 40% of voters give Trump credit for that.

73% think the world will become more dangerous in 2018 because of Trump.

A majority of voters blame Trump for a deterioration in race relations. Only 13% blamed Obama for a deterioration in race relations at this point in his presidency.

52% of voters say they will probably or definitely vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2020.

For the first time in history a past president was selected as the most admired man in the country versus the sitting first term president.

In Alabama, African-American voters over performed. They cast 29% of the vote while representing only 27% of the electorate. They also voted 96% for the Democrat. Given the history of voter suppression in Alabama, these numbers could be even better in the rest of the country.

According to a NYT opinion piece, here’s what that means for the rest of the country.

By emphasizing turnout in 2018 — especially of voters of color — Democrats can take control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and at least five statehouses. Republicans’ margin in the Senate has now slipped to just a two-seat advantage, and the Senate contests in Arizona, Nevada and Texas are all winnable if there is a robust turnout of voters of color. Texas may be considered as conservative as Alabama, but its actual demographics are much more favorable: Only 53 percent of Texas eligible voters are white (and a quarter of the whites are strong Democrats). Mr. Trump won Texas by 800,000 votes, but there were four million eligible, nonvoting people of color in 2016, three million Latinos alone.

Finally there is the enthusiasm gap. Voters opposed to Trump in particular and Republicans in general are just a lot angrier about it. As a result, they are more determined to vote.

Here’s a quote from a CNN article about the Virginia election.

In Virginia’s 2017 election, Democrats comprised 41% of the overall electorate as compared to just 30% for Republicans, according to exit polling. Almost half of the electorate (47%) said they strongly disapproved of Trump, and Democratic nominee Ralph Northam won 95% of those voters.

It is certainly possible that Trump could pivot in a different direction, but that seems unlikely.

Instead all signs point to yet another wave election where the incumbent party loses their majority. There are much more significant implications to this loss of majority for Trump because of the ongoing investigations into the actions of his administration.

Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
Now, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.


8 Responses to “When the Levee Breaks”

  1. Keith says:

    I don’t know what to say Jeff. You source a CNN poll and a NYT’s opinion piece. You would accept this from me.

    There very well may be a title wave coming hitting the republicans, much like the distruction President Obama cause the democrats of historic proportions. Let’s see. Curious to know now the explanation of it doesn’t happen.

    CNN???? Do you watch them?

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:

    I don’t know what to say Jeff. You source a CNN poll and a NYT’s opinion piece. You would accept this from me.

    CNN was quoting some statistics on the Virginia election. If you have a problem with that quote, I’m sure I can find the same statistics from another site.

    I mentioned that the NYT piece WAS an opinion piece. That’s because, in addition to the statistics that were quoted, the author explained how large minority turnout in a handful of states COULD change control in the Senate.

    This was in a section of my post where I was trying to put the WHY to the suggestion that a Democratic wave election is coming. In addition to the fact that voters are not giving Trump much credit for the economy, etc. Minority voters appear mobilized in numbers that we haven’t seen since Obama was on the ballot. That is news.

    I disagree with you when you don’t identify your sources or you quote sources who are expressing opinion as fact. No problem if you identify something as opinion.

    There very well may be a title wave coming hitting the republicans, much like the distruction President Obama cause the democrats of historic proportions. Let’s see. Curious to know now the explanation of it doesn’t happen.

    It will be another shocking moment in the history of polling. Polls like FiveThirtyEight endeavor to be self-correcting. They all have a lot of incentive to do a better job in the next election than they did in the last one.

    CNN???? Do you watch them?

    Not very often. As I said I don’t watch broadcast news. I do sometimes turn on Reliable Sources, but only because I like Brian Stelter and the show happens to be on around the time I get back from church and change out of my church clothes. So when I do watch, it is only for about 10 minutes.

  3. Keith says:

    Analysis | Democrats think 2018 will be a good year, but are they realistic about their own problems? – The Washington Post

    This is a more fair view from the left.

    I suggest you watch CNN before you quote them…. they are far more partisan then you would imagine.

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Democrats could assume they can push those vulnerabilities to the sidelines during a midterm election year with a campaign message that is almost exclusively anti-Trump. But as even many Democrats acknowledge, something more than that will be needed to regain widespread trust of voters across the country and begin the process of rebuilding the party in places where it suffered losses over the past decade.

    I agree that this was a good article. It echoed many of the things that I’ve been posting about.

    What hasn’t been in the press much lately is how energized the Democratic Party is at the local level. If you google Democratic bootcamp, you’ll see articles about activities across the country. In my little town of Monroe, that grass roots organizing has been going on for a year. Every weekend there is a meetup where those interested in running for every open office on the ballot are getting training on what they are going to need to do to win. The classes are full.


    This is all part of the “enthusiasm gap” that pollsters talk about. Democratic voters are not just angry. They are motivated to take action. We have already seen the results in handful of special elections that have happened since Trump took office. That is just the beginning.

    The prospects of a wave election are encouraging many young people who have considered a career in politics to run as Democrats. It is also causing many Republican incumbents to retire. The result is that MANY more of the races on the ballot next November will be open where neither candidate has the benefit of incumbency.

    One of the other benefits of this enthusiasm is that there are multiple candidates running for many of the contested seats. The result is that the Democratic primaries will in-fact be meaningful. The means that the primary will be one of the places where these questions of focus and priority regarding the Democratic agenda will be tested and put to the vote. I believe that this bottom-up approach is going to be MUCH more effective in putting together a robust platform for 2020 than the top down approach we’ve seen in the past.

    My personal agenda is to halt the Republican attacks on the social safety net, strengthen Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; protect and enhance Obamacare, restore balance to the judiciary, rebuild our relationships with the rest of the world, fix immigration (including DACA) so that our economy gets the workers it needs to grow, get out of Afghanistan, reduce defense spending, and use that money to better educate and prepare our workers for the jobs of tomorrow so that we can embrace global trade rather than fear it.

  5. Jeff Beamsley says:

    I suggest you watch CNN before you quote them…. they are far more partisan then you would imagine.

    Partisan is in the eye of the beholder. There is nothing wrong with a newspaper or some other news site having an opinion as long as those opinions don’t bias their news coverage. As long as they report the news in as accurate and truthful way as possible, they earn the right to have an opinion. As long as they make sure people know the difference between when it is the news and when it is an opinion, they can express whatever opinion they want and still be a reliable source for news.

    BTW, here’s a similar article on the Virginia election quoting similar statistics from US News.

    In Virginia, Democrats comprised a record high of 41 percent of voters (compared to 30 percent who identified as Republicans), according to exit polls, and Rising American Electorate groups went big for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Exit polls show that 77 percent of unmarried women went for Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, the Democrat, over Republican Ed Gillespie. That compares to 67 percent of single females who voted for Clinton over Trump in Virginia last year.

    Young people, too, turned out to elect Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey Nov. 8, according to data collected by The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Nearly three-fourths of voters 18-29 cast ballots for New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy over Republican Kim Guadagno. And in Virginia, turnout among under-30 voters went from 17 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2013 to 34 percent this year, according to CIRCLE. While Northam won the race by a 54-45 percent margin, 69 percent of young voters favored Northam, the group found.

  6. Keith says:


    Revisiting our discussion 4 years ago about equality.
    I really like this one. Milton Friedman.

  7. Jeff Beamsley says:


    Revisiting our discussion 4 years ago about equality.
    I really like this one. Milton Friedman.

    Not surprised that you like it. Friedman is a libertarian and this particular snippet is an expression of that philosophy.

    There are things that I like about things that Friedman said too including the following from his book Capitalism and Freedom.

    It can be argued that private charity is insufficient because the benefits from it accrue to people other than those who make the gifts—again, a neighborhood effect. I am distressed by the sight of poverty; I am benefited by its alleviation; but I am benefited equally whether I or someone else pays for its alleviation; the benefits of other people’s charity therefore partly accrue to me. To put it differently, we might all of us be willing to contribute to the relief of poverty, provided everyone else did. We might not be willing to contribute the same amount without such assurance. In small communities, public pressure can suffice to realize the proviso even with private charity. In the large impersonal communities that are increasingly coming to dominate our society, it is much more difficult for it to do so. Suppose one accepts, as I do, this line of reasoning as justifying governmental action to alleviate poverty.… There remain the questions, how much and how. I see no way of deciding “how much” except in terms of the amount of taxes we … are willing to impose on ourselves for the purpose.

    The government action he advocates is what he called a negative income tax. Basically it is a guaranteed minimum income for every adult that falls below a certain income level on the tax scale.

    Fortunately, as far as economic policy is concerned, we have the recent Great Recession as a test bed for what might have happened if the government chose to follow Friedman rather than Keynes and Minsky. Here’s a quote from an article in Marketwatch.

    The debate over which interventions would be needed to put a halt to something like the Great Depression should have been a simple matter of analyzing the evidence. In economic hard times, did interest rates have little impact on the velocity of money, as Friedman suggested? Was Keynes correct when he described the concept of a liquidity trap, a situation in which easing monetary policy further proves ineffective? Is the stock of money in an economy an adequate predictor of total spending, as Friedman claimed, or is the smooth functioning of credit channels a more important factor, as Minsky argued?

    These questions can be debated. But it is fairly clear that, even in the 1970s, there was not enough empirical evidence in support of Friedman’s ideas to justify their growing dominance. And, indeed, there can be no denying the fact that Friedman’s cure proved to be an inadequate response to the Great Recession — strongly suggesting that it would have fallen similarly short had it been tried during the Great Depression.

    Libertarianism simply doesn’t work in a modern global economy any more than Utopian ideas that were popular during the transition from the agrarian economy to the industrial economy at the turn of the century. Friedman himself agreed that the negative motivations implicit in poverty are not sufficient to alleviate poverty. Something else has to be done, and that something else can’t be left to the generosity of private citizens. Unfortunately, those who use Friedman to advocate for free markets ignore this part of his philosophy. That’s because their politics are based more on the social Darwinism of Ayn Rand than they are the full understanding of what Friedman advocated. From that same Marketplace article.

    The dominance of Friedman’s ideas at the beginning of the Great Recession has less to do with the evidence supporting them than with the fact that the science of economics is all too often tainted by politics. In this case, the contamination was so bad that policy makers were unwilling to go beyond Friedman and apply Keynesian and Minskyite policies on a large enough scale to address the problems that the Great Recession presented.

  8. Jeff Beamsley says:

    BTW, not only are we seeing evidence of the erosion in support for Trump at the state level. We are starting to see Republicans up for re-election opposing Trump policies.

    The latest is Cory Gardner in Colorado. He’s the junior Senator from that state and is up for re-election in 2020. He beat the incumbent Democrat Mark Udall in 2014.

    Gardner refused to support Roy Moore. He has now threatened to oppose every Judiciary Department nomination because of Jeff Sessions announcement that the Justice Department will aggressively enforce federal laws regarding the sale and use of marijuana.

    Recreational and medicinal marijuana is big business in Colorado. But it isn’t just that. Here’s how Cory Gardner explained his position.

    “This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states,”

    Republicans have a very narrow margin in the Senate right now. I’m not sure what the political calculus was regarding Sessions announcement, but losing both an important vote in the Senate AND putting a state like Colorado where Trump lost by only 70K votes in 2016 back into the Democratic column seems a high price to pay.

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