If nothing else, 2017’s legislative elections so far put Democrats on track to make big gains in statehouses across the country in 2018 — the sector of government where the party suffered the most during the Obama years. That’s important because the next round of redistricting is less than four years away, meaning 2018 will decide many of the governors and legislators who will draw the congressional districts of the 2020s. From the smallest of small elections on a random Tuesday in this odd year, clues are being dropped about who might hold the balance of power in Washington for the next decade or more.
Electoral trends since the November election have been so clear, “as Trump himself might say, “There’s something going on.”
“Since Trump took office, voters have gone to the polls 24 times1 in 13 states to fill vacancies in their state legislatures — giving us a data set that is robust enough for us to start identifying patterns. And the results in these races echo the returns from Kansas and Montana: Democrats have overperformed almost everywhere.2
Since Jan. 20, Democrats have won 12 special legislative elections, and Republicans have won 11.3 But because so many special elections take place in safe districts, win-loss records can only tell you so much. Instead, you’re better off comparing their final results to the district’s baseline partisanship, which FiveThirtyEight measures using a weighted average of the last two presidential election results4 as calculated by Daily Kos.5 And in the 15 special legislative elections to pit at least one Democrat against at least one Republican,6 12 have seen a net swing toward the Democrats.”
Voting rights advocates are watching closely, and for good reason: the 2018 midterms could have a substantial long-term impact.