Panelists Break Down Election Results

Nov 14, 2018

Experts explored voters’ motivations and the midterm results before a standing-room-only audience in Eberly Hall.

voter turnout

Exceptionally high voter turnout marked the 2018 midterm elections, where Democrats and women both made significant gains.

Just one week after voters went to the polls – and with final vote counts still under way in several states – a team of nationally recognized political experts explored voters’ motivations and the midterm results.

The campus chapter of the American Democracy Project hosted its 10th Election Analysis Forum Nov. 1, with moderator Jon Delano, money and politics editor for KDKA-TV.

The panelists, who have become familiar faces on campus, were political science professor Alan Abramowitz, of Emory University, Ga.; William C. Binning, chair emeritus of the Department of Political Science at Youngstown State University, Ohio; Louis Jacobson, deputy editor and senior writer for the website, a contributing writer for PoliticsPA, and a state politics columnist for Governing; and Costas Panagopoulos, professor of political science and director of big data and quantitative initiatives at Northeastern University, Mass. 

Voter turnout for the midterms was high throughout Pennsylvania, and Delano noted that incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, won by more than 835,000 votes, the second-highest margin of victory in state history for a gubernatorial re-election.

More significant, he said, is the shift in Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Formerly all male, with a 12-6 Republican advantage, the commonwealth’s delegation now will be split 9-9 between the major parties, with four of those seats occupied by women.

“We have never had four women members of Congress (representing the commonwealth) at the same time,” Delano said.

Nationally, Democrats seized control of the House, and a record 121 females will serve in the next Congressional session. Republicans remain in control of the U.S. Senate.

The increase in voter turnout for the midterms was “truly extraordinary,” said Abramowitz, who credited President Donald Trump with sparking voter energy among voters in both parties. Nationwide, about 116 million people – more than 49 percent of eligible voters – went to the polls, compared to 83 million (36.7 percent) in 2014. 

Panagopoulos added that the turnout rate was the highest for a midterm election since 1966, and the last time midterm turnout exceeded 50 percent – a rate that may be reached when all 2018 ballots are tallied – was 1914.

“That’s where we made history in this election cycle,” Panagopoulos said.

But young voters weren’t flocking to the polls, as some pundits predicted they might. Nationally, voter turnout for the 18-29 age group was just 13 percent, up narrowly from the 12 percent average over the past three midterms.

Jacobson called this year’s midterm a “realignment election” that highlighted the “fault lines in the American electorate.” Results show that in general, Democratic candidates are succeeding in more affluent, well-educated communities, while Republicans are gaining rural and blue-collar supporters.

“It’s clear that those demographic divides are becoming deeper and deeper as time passes,” he said.

Historically, midterm elections favor the party that is out of office, Binning reminded, so candidates did not always benefit from President Trump’s midterm appearances on the campaign trail.

“I’ve never seen a president campaign as vigorously in my lifetime,” he said. “Trump certainly wanted to define the election and be  the center of it.”

Delano concluded the forum by asking the panelists to forecast the 2020 presidential election. None of the panelists predicted Trump will be re-elected, although no two could agree on the likely Democratic contender.

Abramowitz emphasized that much can happen in two years.

“Midterm elections do not predict presidential elections – just ask (Bob) Dole and (Mitt) Romney,” he said. “But the voter turnout in 2020 will be through the roof.”