The Memo: Five lessons for 2020 from the 2018 exit polls

The exit polls from the midterm elections are telling important stories, even as the final races are still being tallied.

As attention begins to focus on the 2020 election cycle and President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE’s reelection hopes, here are five key points.

Yes, the GOP has a problem with women

Republicans took encouragement from the overall results on Tuesday, where losses in the House were kept within historical norms and were ameliorated by a solid performance in the Senate.

But when the results are scrutinized more closely, the problems for the party become much more stark.

The GOP’s standing with female voters — who almost always cast a majority of ballots — is particularly perilous.


Democrats won women by a 19-point margin, according to Tuesday’s national exit polls from House elections.

That is the biggest advantage for Democrats, in midterms or in presidential elections, in at least a decade.

Former President Obama won women by 13 points in 2008 and by 11 points in 2012. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE — the first female presidential nominee of a major party — held a 13-point edge in 2016.

The fact that the GOP’s standing with women has eroded since then will be troubling to many Republicans.

Deepening those portents of GOP gloom, white women broke exactly evenly this year. By contrast, Obama lost white women by 7 points, even on his way to a near-landslide in 2008. Clinton famously lost them by 9 points.

Republicans are adamant that the controversy over Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughRoe redux: Is 'viability' still viable as a constitutional doctrine? Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Race is not central to Rittenhouse case — but the media shout it anyway MORE’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings rebounded to their advantage, firing up the conservative base.

But even if that’s true, it hasn’t neutralized the damage to the Republican brand among female voters during Trump’s tenure.

Two years of Trump have not shifted the Latino vote

Democrats made gains among many of their traditional constituencies on Tuesday, but there was one glaring exception: Latinos.

The Democratic advantage with Hispanic voters was still very big: 40 points. But that’s only a 2-point deterioration for the GOP since 2016, when Trump lost Latinos to Clinton by 38 points.

That’s striking, especially given the centrality of immigration as an issue during the campaign.

Trump repeatedly blasted the migrant caravan from Central America, labeling it an “invasion” of the United States that had to be repelled. A TV ad from his campaign was pulled from the airwaves — including by Fox News — amid accusations of racism.

Yet the GOP held onto roughly the same share of Latinos — more than one-quarter — who voted for Trump in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that both the 2016 and 2018 showings are better than GOP nominee — and now senator-elect — Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead China draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai MORE did in 2012. Romney lost Latinos to Obama by 44 points.

The same patterns were also evident at a state level. In a marquee Senate race in Texas, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGermany calls on Congress not to sanction Nord Stream 2 pipeline: report Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' Biden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress MORE (R) held onto 35 percent of the Latino vote despite a strong challenge from Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D).

Those kind of numbers cause consternation among Democrats. And, if they stay roughly the same in 2020, they will complicate the electoral math for the party.

A big warning sign for Republicans

Midterm elections are typically more friendly than presidential election years for Republicans.

There are exceptions, as in 2006 when Democrats seized control of Congress. But broadly, the turnout in midterms tends to be older and whiter than in presidential years, which is to the GOP’s advantage.

The age profile of the voters in this year’s midterms fit that tradition — but the outcome didn’t.

Voters aged 65 and over cast 26 percent of all votes, whereas those under 30 cast only 13 percent.

Yes, despite this older electorate, the GOP lost the national vote in House elections by more than 4 points, according to the latest figures.

That outcome has to be unsettling for Republicans, given that they can expect to face a younger, less friendly universe of voters two years from now.

Non-college whites could save Trump

One of many famous Trump soundbites came almost three years ago.

“I love the poorly educated,” he declared after winning the Nevada GOP caucuses in February 2016.

The sneering reaction to that remark from some quarters missed the larger political point. Voters without college educations have always been pivotal to his success. They played a huge role in his 2016 victory.

Those voters came out for the GOP in the midterms. White voters without a college education cast 41 precent of all ballots — up from 34 percent in 2016 and 36 percent in the previous midterms, in 2014.

As a group, they favored Republicans by 24 points.

The blue-collar enthusiasm might yet be canceled out by losses for the GOP among college-educated voters in the Trump era.

Democrats won college graduates overall by 20 points on Tuesday, easily the party’s biggest win with that demographic in the past decade. Obama, even in 2008, won them by only 8 points.

But Democrats ignore or downplay the scale of Trump's appeal to non-college whites at their peril.

A gray wave?

The importance of older people is often overlooked in media coverage, despite the fact that they are among the most reliable voters.

Older voters have tended to be strongly Republican. One of the more startling lessons from Tuesday is that this may not longer be true.

The GOP’s edge with the over-65s was whittled down to just 2 points.

By comparison, the over-65s voted for the GOP by 16 points in the 2014 midterms. Exit polls in 2010 classified all voters over 60 together: They also voted Republican by a 16-point margin.

The reason for the shift is not clear. But if the 2018 pattern is replicated in 2020, it could spell doom for Trump.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.