Republican President Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 66% to 30% margin in the district back in 2016
. That means Keller’s margin was about the same as Trump’s. The lack of a huge shift is very different than what tended to happen during the course of 2017 and 2018.
Over the nearly two-year period prior to the 2018 midterms, congressional Democratic candidates were regularly outperforming the 2016 presidential baseline. The average Democratic margin across 11 congressional elections was 12 points better than Clinton’s margin in the same district
(or state, in the case of the 2017 special Senate election in Alabama). This included outperforming Clinton in nine of these 11 races.
The question is whether the Pennsylvania 12 result is a fluke. It could be, but about 30 special legislative elections since the 2018 midterms suggest that something may very well have changed since last year.
According to data collected by Daily Kos Elections
, Democrats have only been outperforming Clinton’s margin by about 3 points heading into Tuesday night in these state legislative specials. Even if we allocate third party votes proportionally to account for a number of races with strong third-party showings, Democrats have only been outperforming the 2016 baseline by about 6 points.
Either of these measures lags the average 10 point overperformance
Democrats had from after Trump’s election to just before the 2018 midterms.
Now part of the seeming shift is where these special elections have taken place. A number have been in New England, where Republicans tend to do better than the presidential baseline would suggest.
If nothing else, the special election results do indicate that Democrats may not have a huge enthusiasm edge on Republicans. Part of what drove the Democratic strength in the 2017 and 2018 special elections was relatively large turnout
among the Democratic base. That was a sign of things to come in the midterms, when Democrats turned out in larger numbers than they had in either the 2010 or 2014 midterms.
These results are in-line with recent polling from CNN
that shows Democratic and Republican voters are about as enthusiastic for the 2020 election at this point. Polling before the midterms generally indicated greater enthusiasm among Democrats than Republicans.
The good news for Democrats is that it’s very early in the cycle with many more special elections to come and special elections are just one indicator of the political environment. Others continue to look bad for the Republicans. Trump’s job approval rating
is low, just like it was in 2017 and 2018. The top Democrats (particularly Joe Biden) are beating Trump
in early 2020 polling, just like Democrats were leading Republicans in early generic congressional ballot polling
in the 2018 cycle.
Still, Republicans can point to special elections as a potential sign of improvement heading into 2020.