Mellman: The triumph of partisanship

Mellman: The triumph of partisanship
© The Hill illustration

Two forces triumphed on Election Day — Democrats and partisanship.

Tuesday brought a broad and deep victory for Democrats, as well as a repudiation of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE and his Republican Congress.

When all the votes are counted, Democrats will have picked up 35 or more House seats, gained a net of at least seven governorships, taken control of eight additional state legislative chambers and flipped more than 380 state legislative seats.


Democratic success extended well below the surface. Some three-quarters of the nation's congressional districts shifted toward the Democrats.

The exit polls reveal that almost every demographic segment moved toward the Democrats, as compared to their House vote in 2016.

Women increased their support for Democrats by 5 points, but men moved to the Democrats by 4 points.

Nonwhites shifted toward Democrats by 2 points, whites by 6 points.

White college graduates boosted their support for Democrats by 9 points, but the Democratic vote jumped 6 points over 2016 among noncollege whites.

Suburbs moved to the Democrats by 4 points, equaling the movement in urban areas, while rural areas shifted an even greater 7 points.

Independents boosted their support for Democrats by 9 points.

"Alas," you respond, "but what about the Senate?"

In a year where the map imposed horrific burdens on Democrats, the party will likely lose a net of just one or two seats.

And while those wonderful defeated Democrats did worse than they had 6 years ago, they all substantially outperformed Donald Trump's showing in their states.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE's (D-N.D.) margin was 25 points better than Trump's in North Dakota, while Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill: Lindsey Graham 'has lost his mind' Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government MORE (D-Mo.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (D-Ind.) bested Trump's margin by 13 points in their states.

Herein lies the second great "victory" of 2018 — the triumph of partisanship.

The trend's been clearly visible for some years, but this cycle it came to fruition.

In the 1990 midterms, 23 percent of Republican voters cast ballots for the Democratic candidate while 21 percent of Democrats voted Republican.

In 2018, just 6 percent of GOPers and 4 percent of Democrats voted for the other party's candidate.
Those national House vote numbers can obscure the tide, however.

When Heitkamp won by a point six years ago, there was no exit poll, but Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDem strategist says former GOP spokeswoman will be 'an asset' to CNN The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times CNN ripped for hiring former Republican operative as political editor: 'WTF?!?!' MORE won the state by 19 points, so about that many Romney voters split their ticket to support Heitkamp. This year, just 6 percent of Republicans and 8 percent of Trump voters crossed the partisan line.

In Missouri, 15 percent of GOPers voted for McCaskill in 2012, but this year less than half as many did so, and the story was similar in Indiana.

What about Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (D-W.Va.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterHow the border deal came together GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Border talks stall as another shutdown looms MORE (D-Mont.)? They seemed to keep their heads above the red tide in their states.

GOP support for both shrunk in 2018.

Tester won because there are fewer Republicans and more independents in Montana this year than the last time he ran.

West Virginia presents a somewhat different story.

There was no 2012 exit poll in the state, but Manchin prevailed by a 25-point margin. This year, his margin was slashed to just 3 points.

As governor, and during eight years in the Senate, Manchin made clear the lengths he will go to assert his independence, famously shooting the Democratic cap-and-trade bill in his last campaign, then voting with Trump more often than any other Democrat in the Senate, including supporting Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSmollett saga shows it's no mistake when media target conservatives Supreme Court clamps down on 'excessive fines' by states The 10 GOP senators who may break with Trump on emergency MORE's accession to the Supreme Court.

And all this in a state where partisan identities (though not ideological proclivities) were evenly balanced on Election Day.

Partisanship has long been our most important political identity. Until recently, however, appealing personalities and good works could enable candidates to escape its gravitational pull.

That partisan gravity has now become Jupiter-like, 2.4 times what it is on earth, weighing down federal candidates, except in the rarest of circumstances or the most evenly balanced of states.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as President of the American Association of Political Consultants.