Eric Davis: Questions to be answered Tuesday
Here are some questions to consider as election results come in next Tuesday night.
Polls indicate considerably more interest in this year’s midterms than in typical off-year cycles. National turnout in the last midterms, in 2014, was only 36.6 percent. This year’s turnout will be higher than that. But how much higher?
National turnout in the 40-45 percent range looks plausible. Democrats will be working hard on increasing turnout among two groups — young voters and Latino voters — that polls show favor Democrats, but have historically not voted at high levels in midterms.
Vermont turnout should also be up from the last midterm. In 2014, only 41.5 percent of Vermonters went to the polls, an all-time low for the modern era. Will Vermont turnout this year be higher than 50 percent, a number last exceeded in a midterm election in 2006?
Democrats are almost certain to gain seats in the U.S. House, but can they pick up at least the 23 seats needed to have a majority? Working in Democrats’ favor is President Trump’s low approval rating among well-educated suburban voters, particularly women. Working against the Democrats are the Republican structural advantage due to gerrymandered districts in many states, and the active efforts of GOP officials in some states to suppress turnout through measures such as limiting early voting and the number of polling places.
How many of the Democratic incumbent senators running for re-election in red states such as Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, Montana and West Virginia will win another term? Can Democrats pick up open Republican Senate seats in states such as Arizona and Tennessee? Republicans holding the Senate majority seems the likeliest outcome.
Democrats should pick up some governors’ offices — 36 states will be electing governors this year — but how many? Some of the most important gubernatorial elections will be in states with Republican legislatures that have a history of drawing gerrymandered U.S. House district lines.
If Democrats can win the governorships in open-seat elections in Georgia, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, and defeat Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin, those Democrats would be in office in 2021, when redistricting will occur following the 2020 census. They could veto blatantly partisan GOP-drawn district maps.
Also, can Democratic African-American candidates Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia win open-seat gubernatorial elections in southern states?
Here in Vermont, Phil Scott is likely to continue the streak of incumbent governors being re-elected that goes back to 1964. Scott’s two predecessors as governor both won their second terms by margins of about 20 percent over their challengers — Jim Douglas defeating Peter Clavelle in 2004 and Peter Shumlin defeating Randy Brock in 2010. Can Christine Hallquist do better than Clavelle and Brock, or will Scott also win his first re-election by about 20 percent?
While Scott is likely to be re-elected, Democrats are favored to win the remaining statewide offices in Vermont, in some instances by a 2-to-1 majority over their closest challenger.
Can Democrats and Progressives pick up enough additional seats in the Vermont House to be able to override Gov. Scott’s vetoes in the 2019-2020 biennium? Results in two districts in Addison County — Addison-3 in the Vergennes area and Addison-4 in the Bristol area — will help answer this question. In both of these districts, Republicans are trying to hold on to one seat in a two-member district.
Will Democrats Chris Bray and Ruth Hardy retain both seats in the Addison Senate district, which Democrats have held since 2002? The division of the non-Democratic vote among Independents Marie Audet and Paul Ralston, Republican Peter Briggs, and Libertarian Archie Flower will help Bray and Hardy. Even if the two Democrats win, will the aggregate vote for the two Democratic candidates exceed the aggregate vote for the four non-Democratic candidates?
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.