Three reasons for Democrats to be optimistic on Election Day

Both Democrats and Republicans have found reason to be optimistic about the midterm elections this week, as an uncertain political climate — both nationally and in Minnesota — has left the outcome of a number of key races in question.

Despite Republicans holding both houses of Congress, the White House and many state governments, Democrats hope several early signs point to the possibility of a "blue wave" that could sweep them back into power across the country.

Here in Minnesota, historical midterm trends and recent polling in many of the state's major races have lifted the hopes of state Democrats.

(Click here to see three reasons for Republicans to be optimistic).

Democrats have a polling advantage

On a national level, aggregated estimates of the generic Congressional ballot – which simply asks people which party they would prefer to vote for – has consistently given Democrats an advantage over Republicans among likely voters.

As of Nov. 2, 2018, registered and likely voters preferred Democrats over Republicans by about 8 points, according to FiveThirtyEight's aggregation of generic congressional ballots. The trend has favored Democrats for months.

Historically, the generic ballot has been fairly predictive of outcomes in midterm elections, and Democrats at this time have an edge similar to the one Republicans had in their 2010 Congressional wave.

Democratic candidates also lead Republicans and those who are undecided or voting third party in most of Minnesota's biggest statewide races, according to a Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll from October 2018.

A recent NBC News/Marist poll of likely voters showed similar trends in Minnesota's races for U.S. Senate and governor.

Winning statewide races tends to provide momentum for candidates further down the ballot, generating a coattails effect in Congressional and legislative contests.

Democrats have been more enthusiastic

For the past couple years, Democrats have gradually regained ground in off-year and special elections across the country, including major upset victories in Republican areas once thought to be secure. This has signaled an increase in Democratic energy and voter engagement.

While Minnesota hasn't had a notable special election the last couple years, maps of Minnesota precincts — shaded by whether the DFL or GOP saw an increased vote share compared to the the previous presidential election — reveal what voter enthusiasm for the minority party has looked like in the past.

Visualizing midterm backlash by precinct
Midterm vote totals in Minnesota's precincts often show increased vote shares for the minority party compared to the last election.
Bush 2002
Bush 2006


Obama 2010
Obama 2014

During the George W. Bush years, significant numbers of precincts saw increased DFL vote shares during midterms compared to the previous election, whereas during the Obama years the GOP gained higher percentages.

It's possible that if Democratic voter enthusiasm continues its momentum through this Election Day that 2018 continues this pattern.

Low presidential popularity

While President Trump isn't on this year's ballot, in many ways the midterm election is seen as a referendum on presidential job performance.

Often that means the president's party usually loses seats on state and federal levels. Presidents with an approval rating under 50 percent tend to suffer the greatest midterm losses.

Presidents usually lose Congressional ground in midterms
Only a handful of times in the modern era has the president's party gained seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
US House
MN House

As of the Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll from September 2018, Trump's approval rating in Minnesota was 39 percent, while national averages place him around 42 percent.