For the past two years, many people have fretted that American democracy was in its twilight. In 2016, voters elected as president Donald Trump, a volatile demagogue with a predilection for peddling conspiracy theories and a soft spot for dictators and white nationalism. Our politics seemed hopelessly polarized, with gridlock the new normal, seemingly into perpetuity.
The 2018 election, however, provided tangible proof that 2016 could be an aberration – a glitch but not a feature of the politics to come. Turnout broke modern records for midterm elections, including among first-time and youthful voters. But the real revolt came not from the activist base but from the suburbs, from a once quiescent but a newly resurgent center. Led by suburban women disgusted by Trump’s misogyny and blatant race baiting, suburban voters gave Democrats the lion’s share of their gains in the House – including among many districts that had voted for Trump in 2016. These districts handed Democrats their new majority, and their defection from a Trump-dominated Republican party creates an opportunity for Democrats to broaden their coalition and build a truly national party.
The crucial question now for Democrats is how to wield the power they now hold.
To help meet this challenge, PPI and Expedition Strategies surveyed 1,090 likely voters on the eve of this crucial election. Our goals were to gather data to put the current results into context and to gather clues about the kind of agenda progressives should craft as we barrel headlong into the 2020 presidential sweepstakes.
The good news for Democrats is that they have the potential to build a durable majority. In our poll,48 percent of respondents identified as Democrats or as independents who lean Democratic, while39 percent said they were Republicans or Republican leaners, and 13 percent were true independents, with no allegiance to either party.
But for Democrats to maintain and expand this near-majority advantage, they must craft a broadly appealing agenda that brings or keeps independents and less committed partisans – the majority of whom call themselves “moderate” – under the tent. Also vital will be winning over for the long term the suburban women who led the revolt against Trump. According to one poll by CNN immediately pre-election, 62 percent of women wanted Democrats to take control of Congress, and 63 percent disapproved of Donald Trump – sentiments these voters acted on with a vengeance, not only through their energetic turnout but by sending a record number of women to Congress. While our survey shows that women – and white college-educated women in particular – are more liberal and more Democratic than men or the electorate at large, the plurality of women are still “moderate,” and their views do not conform in many ways to those of the liberal activist Democratic base.
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