A few weeks ago, I wrote that looking back at past midterm elections could provide clues as to possible outcomes in the 2014 contests, in both Texas and the United States. Historically, a president’s party loses seats in Congress during the sixth year of an administration, and this proved to be the case this year, as Republicans rode a national wave of voter discontent to capture control of the Senate and increase their majority in the House. In Texas, I suggested that President Barack Obama’s low approval rating and the state’s strong Republican bent would be very challenging for Democrats, and indeed, Republicans swept the Lone Star State. Why did this happen, and what does this mean for the next couple of years?
Republicans experienced an election night of triumph. In addition to reclaiming the Senate, the GOP won its largest majority in the House of Representatives since the 1930s, and gained several governorships in typically Democratic states. Voters nationwide were in a pessimistic mood and took their frustrations out on the president’s party, as is common in midterm elections, despite low job performance ratings for Republican congressional leaders. Democrats faced the added disadvantage that midterm voters tend to be older, whiter, and more conservative, which occurred again in 2014. The Democratic coalition of younger voters, minorities and women that propelled and re-elected Obama to the presidency did not turn out to the polls in full force this year. Additionally, the political map favored Republicans this cycle, as Democrats had to defend Senate seats in “red” states. The electorate, voicing anti-incumbency, punished Democratic officeholders in both “purple” and “blue” states, again illustrating the difficulties presidents historically have in off-year elections. Republicans this year also managed to avoid mistakes from past elections and nominated gifted politicians instead of bizarre candidates prone to verbal gaffes.
In Texas, the Republican Party won all statewide offices, again illustrating its dominance of the Lone Star State. Although the Democratic Party ran potentially its strongest ticket in years, led by Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the conservative electorate and Obama’s deep unpopularity in Texas made Democrats’ chances for victory almost impossible. Greg Abbott defeated Davis for the governorship 59 to 39 percent, while Dan Patrick won the lieutenant governor’s race over Van de Putte by only a slightly smaller margin. Battleground Texas’ efforts to turn out more Democratic voters to the polls proved unsuccessful. The fact is, at least for the time being, that Texas voters remain staunchly Republican and hostile to Obama and his Democratic supporters’ political agenda.
What do these election results mean for the final two years of the Obama presidency and for the state of Texas? Interestingly, national exit polls showed that voters’ primary concern is the economy. Ironically, this should have benefited the president and his party, as the country’s economy has shown steady, if slow, improvement in recent months. Yet voters clearly are weary of partisan gridlock in Washington, and since Democrats control the presidency, the citizenry decided to reward Republicans, in yet another example of midterm elections historically benefiting the party outside of the White House. Republicans, now in full control of Congress, must show that they can govern. Make no mistake, voters do not find either party particularly appealing right now. While Republicans had a great election night nationally, the GOP would be mistaken to take it as a mandate for right-wing policies. The past few election cycles have shown that voters want leaders from both parties to compromise and find common ground to strengthen the economy and provide good governance. And while the majority of Texans unmistakably favor Republican initiatives, Abbott, Patrick and the Texas GOP similarly should resist the temptation to govern in a hyperpartisan manner. Although Democrats suffered through a depressing election night in Texas this year, one of the party’s few bright spots is that it won the majority of Hispanic, African-American and younger voters. For their long-term electoral prospects, Texas Republicans should not ignore this fact.
The 2014 midterms had not even finished when news outlets began speculating about 2016, which will be a presidential year and therefore bring even more voter attention and turnout. In today’s media and technologically-driven political world, the next election is never very far away. Republicans, Democrats, independents and all voters should stay tuned.
Briscoe is a history graduate student from Carrizo Springs.