Three reasons for Republicans to be optimistic on Election Day

Both Republicans and Democrats 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.

Republicans have control of the White House, Congress, and the governorships and legislatures of 26 states. But midterms historically have gone poorly for the party in the majority, which has given rise to talk of a Democratic wave this election cycle.

Here in Minnesota, Republicans are hopeful that partisan voting trends, demographics and President Donald Trump's popularity among party voters will give them an advantage on Election Day.

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

Minnesota is more of a battleground

After decades as a reliable Democratic stronghold, Minnesota handed Hillary Clinton only a narrow two-point victory in 2016, one of the slimmest margins for a Democratic victory in the state's history.

But Trump's insurgent vote total in Minnesota isn't the only indicator that Minnesota has become more Republican.

On a statewide level, Minnesota's Cook Partisan Voting Index has gradually moved from a strongly Democratic lean to one that's almost evenly split between the two parties.

Minnesota is a lot more politically competitive
The state's Cook Partisan Voting Index has narrowed significantly over the decades.
⇦ More Democratic | More Republican ⇨

The index compares average Democratic and Republican presidential vote shares in a state or congressional district to national numbers for the previous two elections. Being closer to an "even" score suggests Minnesota is less Democratic-leaning than in recent memory.

Minnesota has transformed into a much more level playing field for the GOP, which is extremely consequential in this year's midterm where the governor's office, Attorney General, state Legislature and U.S. Congress are up for grabs.

Additionally, split-ticket voting between Congressional and statewide races has declined over the past two decades, suggesting voters have become more partisan overall.

Republicans still like Trump

While Trump's polls somewhat slipped from earlier in the year, his approval rating is still strong among Minnesota Republicans, according to a Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll data from September 2018.

Donald Trump's approval ratings still steady among his voters
Those who identify as Republicans and those who voted for Trump in 2016 have remained loyal.

Likely voters in the northern part of the state and Iron Range have the highest regional approval of Trump, according to polls, which might be helpful for Congressional and legislative races there.

If those approval ratings translate into voter enthusiasm, it may help push Republican candidates over the finish line in competitive districts in greater Minnesota and in tight statewide contests.

Minnesota looks like Trump Country

When Republican voters turned out significantly for Donald Trump in 2016, 19 counties in greater Minnesota flipped to trending Republican despite favoring Democrats in 2012 and 2008.

This resembles broader Republican voting patterns, as Minnesota demographically resembles a lot of neighboring red states and regions sometimes referred to as "Trump Country."

The GOP's outstate advantage by county
Republicans rode Trump's 2016 coattails in greater Minnesota, even in places traditionally more Democratic.
2016 Results (45% Trump)
Median Age (43)
Median Income ($53K)
College Degrees (22%)
Religious Adherence (56%)
Minority Population (17%)

Demographic maps of Minnesota — shaded from less to more on various metrics — reveal a state that's whiter, a majority religious, on average older, less educated with a median income around $50,000 per year.

And places where those traits are most prominent were won by Republicans in 2016.