Naturally, The Government is Red, White, And Blue

The 2016 election is over, and Donald Trump has emerged victorious. It was a crazy ride, with most of the pundits pro­jecting a modest Clinton victory. Now that that is behind us, we can safely say that the feder­al government is going to be Republican for at least the next two years—possibly four, con­sidering that Democrats have a lot of seats to defend in the Senate in 2018. That, however, doesn’t mean that the government is Republican by design. In regards to the presidency, House, and Senate, each institution seems to take on its own bent: Democratic, Republican, and neutral, respectively.

Trump won the presidency despite losing the popular vote by almost three million votes. Had 22,000 votes been switched in Wisconsin, Clinton would’ve secured that state’s ten elec­toral votes. Had 11,000 been switched in Michigan, she would’ve gotten another sixteen. And had 55,000 ballots gone the other way in Pennsylvania, she would’ve won there too. This means that Donald Trump won the elec­tion through the Electoral College by 88,000— 0.0006 percent of ballots cast. If the President runs again in 2020 and wins the popular vote, the Republicans will have won the popular vote for the first time in sixteen years. President Bush was the last Republican candidate to win the popular vote, earning a plurality of three mil­lion in 2004. To make matters worse for GOP prospects, Clinton’s plurality was larger than the margins of victory seen in 2000, 1976, 1968, 1960, and 1948. The presidency—or, at least, the popular vote—tends to be blue.

The state of the Senate shares some similarities with the presidency. Though it is important to note that this year’s cycle witnessed Democratic vote totals increased by the California and New York Senate races (California’s Senate race was between two Democrats), even if one were to subtract the vote totals of the losing candidate in the California Senate race, the Democrats still would’ve won the popular vote for this chamber by six million. The Democrats even won during midterms in 2006, something they had not ac­complished since 1990.

But as with the presidency, the popular vote for Senate elections means nothing. All pop­ular vote totals show is that the country is much more Democratic during presidential elections, yet since 1981, power has switched in the upper chamber five times. Currently the Senate is undertaking a slight Republican bent, as pundits and betting markets have projected that Republicans will hold onto their slim ma­jority until at least 2021. This is because the Democratic Party will be defending 23 seats. To make matters even worse for liberals, ten of those seats are from states that went to Mr. Trump just three months ago.

The House, however, should remain Republican until, at the very least, the end of the decade. Since 2010, there has been a deficiency in close House elections, to the point where even if Republicans didn’t get enough votes to take those close seats, they would still have a ma­jority. If Republicans do well in the 2018 guber­natorial elections, they will control state legisla­tures right before the 2020 census. Should this happen, they will have control over the redis­tricting that takes place subsequently after. And that means gerrymandering—a lot of gerryman­dering—and another decade of Republican con­trol of the House.

Moreover, House elections have been consider­ably more Republican than their Senate counter­parts. The last time Democrats had a clear ma­jority in these elections was 2008. Even during elections that have taken place simultaneous­ly with presidential elections, Democrats have done poorly. Despite Clinton having won the popular vote by three million just two months ago, the Republicans still won the House elec­tions with a plurality of 1.5 million.

Republicans do even better during midterms, ow­ing to low turnout and alleged voter suppression via voter-ID laws, gerrymandering, and oth­er ordinances found in individual states (North Carolina’s lawmakers were accused by a judge of suppressing the minority vote with “surgi­cal precision”). Their margins have climbed as high as six million in 2010. Beyond this, conser­vatives simply vote more than liberals, the for­mer having become more and more Republican, according to a Pew Research Center study pub­lished in July 2014.

This is the current state of the federal govern­ment. For the House, the last few decades have seen Republican control, a trend that seems unlikely to change. As for the Senate and the presidency, it takes time for trends to change. Maybe Republicans have just been running bad presidential candidates and having bad cam­paigns for their Senate races. If they choose to run someone like Marco Rubio or Eric Greitens in 2024 and beyond, they could start seeing winning margins. If their coattails are effective and the Republicans have a good ground-game, they could hold the Senate for lengths of time not seen since pre-Reagan.

Nicholas Kinberg

Nicholas Kinberg '20 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at nicholaskinberg@wustl.edu.

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