Midterms show voters have more on their minds than just the economy

Midterms show voters have more on their minds than just the economy
© Greg Nash

The nation spoke up loud and clear on Nov. 6. The midterm election results were nothing less than a resounding rebuke of "Trumpism," Trump’s leadership, Trump policies and where Trump is taking the country.

While Democrats didn’t take back the Senate — a tall task given the horribly difficult Senate electoral map for Democrats — they flipped Nevada and Arizona. Florida is still up in the air.

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Democrats are on track to win close to 40 seats in the House. They won seven governorships in places that Trump won in 2016. Democrats flipped seven state legislative chambers and flipped 350 state legislative seats, more than a third of what was lost in eight years under President Obama.

The face of power didn’t just change in the House of Representatives, it changed in state houses and in governors' mansions across the country.

A look at the exit polls shows that voters defied the conventional wisdom that voters only care about the economy. It turns out they care about much more than that.

Even with record unemployment across all sectors and all demographics, a majority of voters on Election Day said they believed the country was going in the wrong direction. This was the first indication that things would go well for the Democrats.

Voters said health care was a top issue, and Democrats had a wide edge on that issue, as many Democratic candidates across the country made it a key cog of their platforms.

Of course, the other big issue was the current president: Two-thirds of voters said they were voting in the midterm elections to oppose Trump.

Democrats lost the House twice in the last 25 years: 1994 and 2010. In 1994, President Clinton had recently inherited a recession from George H. W. Bush, and the unemployment rate was up near 6 percent.

In 2010, President Obama had inherited an economy in a tailspin, the worst since the Great Depression. He was putting in place policies to shore up an economy that had an unemployment rate of around 10 percent, and he was also fighting to implement a transformational — though at the time unpopular — Affordable Care Act.

In these instances, it was clearly the economy that led to the Democrats' demise. Voters did not feel good about their economic situations.

This time around, it wasn’t so much about the economy, as it was about Trump’s character. The majority of the American people do not approve of Trump or what he represents with his rhetoric and unpopular policy pronouncements.

That is why Republicans lost white, college-educated women by 20 points. Trump won a majority of them in 2016. Democrats almost broke even on white, college-educated men in 2018. Republicans lost independent voters by 12 points while Trump won them in 2016.

These dramatic swings speak volumes, not about the state of the economy, which an astonishing 68 percent of voters said was in “excellent" or “good” shape, but about how these key voter groups feel about Trump himself, and importantly, about how they view the Republicans who have up until now, blindly supported anything that Trump has said and done.

Voters soundly rejected the sycophantic Republican Congress and put in leaders who spoke authentically about citizens' issues and the problems they have in their daily lives: spiking health-care costs and Republicans seeking to take away protections and coverage from the most vulnerable Americans. This, and Trump, cost Republicans their majority in the House. 

But beyond the trends with white, college-educated women and independent voters, there are broader trends that Trump and Republicans need to be very worried about going into the 2020 cycle. Republicans overwhelmingly are choosing to side with groups and demographics that are getting older and smaller.

Democrats are representing the groups of voters who are growing in population and prominence, which will bode well for the party in the coming years.

Specifically, voters aged 18 to 29 overwhelmingly sided with Democrats by 35 points. Even those aged 18 to 44 also went for Democrats by 25 points. This is a crushing defeat for a party that cannot survive with these numbers among the biggest voting block there is — millennials.

Among voters of color, Democrats slayed Trump and Republicans by massive margins. Latinos went for Democrats 69 percent to 29 percent, and African-Americans preferred Democrats 90 percent to 9 percent.

In a country that is becoming more multicultural by the day, these numbers are simply unsustainable for the Republican Party and for Trump in 2020.

While Democrats now have an immense challenge ahead to demonstrate they can not only win in every state and in every district, but that they can also govern and lead. What was truly heartening about this past election was that it proved that Americans do care not just about numbers, their pocket books and the stock market.

Americans clearly also care about what their country and its leaders represent. They care about the character of the person in the Oval Office and what that says about us as a country. They cared that this president has been disrespectful and hateful and that he doesn't reflect the values that most Americans hold dear. And they said enough is enough.

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.