Despite history saying Democrats should win, despite electoral models saying Democrats should win, and despite President Trump’s approval rating saying Democrats should win, some Democrats are still very uneasy about heading into November. Too many of them fear the circumstances in 2016 when every model, every pundit, and ever poll said Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President of the United States. So common was this wisdom, back then, that even Donald Trump reportedly assumed he was heading for defeat.
As McClatchy reports, Democrats are taking nothing for granted, and they can’t shake this feeling that even with things lined up in their favor, the 2018 midterms could still be a disaster for them:
Jesse Ferguson remembers it well. The deputy press secretary for Clinton’s campaign also remembers what happened a month later.
It’s why this veteran Democratic operative can’t shake the feeling that, as promising as the next election looks for his party, it might still all turn out wrong.
“Election Day will either prove to me I have PTSD or show I’ve been living déjà vu,” Ferguson said. “I just don’t know which yet.”
Ferguson is one of many Democrats who felt the sting of unexpected defeat in 2016 and are now closely — and nervously — watching the current election near its end, wondering if history will repeat itself. This year, instead of trying to win the presidency, Democrats have placed an onus on trying to gain 23 House seats and win a majority.
The anxiety isn’t universal, with many party leaders professing confidently and repeatedly that this year really is different.
But even some of them acknowledge the similarities between the current and previous election: Trump is unpopular and beset by scandal, Democrats hold leads in the polls, and some Republicans are openly pessimistic.
FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 76.9 percent chance of winning the House one month before Election Day. Their odds for Clinton’s victory two years ago? 71.4 percent.
The abundance of optimism brings back queasy memories for Jesse Lehrich, who worked on the Clinton campaign and remembers watching the returns come in from the Javits Center in New York.
Many Democrats, like Ferguson, are haunted by this graphic from FiveThirtyEight in 2016:
At this very moment, if things hold as it stands, Democrats will likely capture the House in November unless Republican voters make a stand and come out in droves to essentially back the President against fears of impeachment. The Senate is another matter, and Republicans seem on track to actually expand their current majority.
Has anything changed for Democrats in 2018 compared to 2016? Do they risk the same fate of being overconfident and feeling so inevitable that they miss the important details by having already won the race in their minds? Perhaps the difference in 2018 is Democratic voter enthusiasm, which seemed to slow down heading into the home stretch two years ago:
Lehrich said he sees similarities between 2016 and 2018. But he said he thought Democrats were cognizant of the parallels and determined not to let up a month before the election, as many voters might have two years ago.
It would seem logical that the party out of power is far more motivated to vote in the next round than the party holding power. It’s simply a human trait of feeling less threatened and more in control, so the strong desire to show up and send a message to leaders simply isn’t there. Or, is it?
Republicans were heading into the midterm with average enthusiasm, and staring at heavy losses in the House, maybe even the Senate. Then, something changed, as The Week reports:
Republican voters have caught up with Democrats in viewing the election as “very important.” In July, the same poll registered a 10-point enthusiasm gap, and while Democrats and Republicans are both more juiced to vote, Democrats now lead by a 2-point margin, 82 percent to 80 percent. The pollsters cite the contentious Senate hearings over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and the sexual assault allegations against him.
“The result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened,” says Lee Miringoff, Marist’s polling director.
The only problem for Republicans is that Kavanaugh, ultimately, won confirmation to the bench. Had he been forced to withdraw or failed to win confirmation in the Senate, perhaps Republican enthusiasm would have surpassed Democrats. As it stands, we have two parties energized, and the fate of the House at stake.
Democrats are still sitting on the high ground in terms of polls and stats, but until the votes are tallied on election night, I don’t think many of them are going to count their electoral chickens until they hatch, fearful of repeating 2016.