More Evidence of a Coming Wave

This week’s special elections in Arizona and New York offer fresh evidence of Democratic momentum as November approaches. In all three contests, the Democrats exceeded historical performance—continuing a steady trend that started at the beginning of 2017.

Democrats Competitive in Arizona

The special election in Arizona’s 8th District was decided by less than 5 points, which is noteworthy when you consider that this is the second most Republican district in the state. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama received 40 percent of the vote here in the past two presidential elections. The district-wide Democratic Performance Index is 38.3 percent, further underscoring the inherent Republican advantage. Tuesday night, Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni easily outperformed that metric, receiving 47.4 percent and exceeding Hillary Clinton’s performance by an astonishing 8.5 points.

These results continue a trend that we have witnessed in previous congressional special elections this cycle, with Democrats outperforming in districts that aren’t tailor made targets. With the exception of last year’s contest in GA-06, this cycle’s special elections have taken place in districts without high concentrations of college educated voters, a voting bloc increasingly pivotal for Democrats. According to the most recent measurements, 27.4 percent of voters in AZ-08 have a college degree or higher (this is below the national average). Overall, Tuesday’s results once again indicate that the Democrats are poised to score major gains in the November U. S. House elections—perhaps exceeding the 23 seats necessary to gain a majority. Despite Tuesday night’s loss, Arizona will be a state to watch this fall, as Arizona’s 2nd and 6th Districts are obvious targets, with electorates that are far more likely to vote Democratic. In fact, we already assume that Democrats will gain the 2nd District, where Congresswoman Martha McSally vacated to run for Senate, while 6th District Congressman David Schweikert looks increasingly vulnerable.

Democratic 2018 %
(Special Election)
DPI* Hillary Clinton 2016 % Democratic 2016 %
(General Election)
AZ-08 47.4% 38.3% 38.9% 0.0%
GA-06 48.2% 38.6% 49.2% 38.3%
KS-04 46.8% 40.9% 35.4% 39.7%
PA-18 50.2% 42.4% 39.9% 0.0%
SC-05 48.4% 41.8% 40.5% 39.6%
UT-03 30.6% 25.8% 33.0% 26.5%
* NCEC’s Democratic Performance Index

Good News from New York

New York hosted two closely watched state legislative special elections this Tuesday, and the results are another positive indicator for the Democrats.

The 37th Senate district was fiercely contested after being vacated by Democrat George Latimer. Democratic candidate Shelley Mayer was favored to win and succeeded by a wide margin, which is important considering that both parties used substantial resources on this race. According to the final results, Mayer amassed 57.7 percent of the vote, exceeding Democratic Performance by 5.6 points. This was arguably not unexpected given Hillary Clinton’s 61.2 percent major party vote share in 2016. However, we believe that the Clinton vote was the initial signal that  suburban voters in high education districts were leaving the Republican Party in droves. Comparatively, President Barack Obama won the 37th District by a smaller margin, with 54.4 percent of the vote in 2012. Accordingly, the outcome of this race is just the latest state legislative result to imply a favorable environment for Democrats in suburban districts across the country.

Tuesday night’s other New York election (to fill a Republican vacancy in the 10th Assembly District in Suffolk County) is an even more salient result than the victory in the 37th Senate district. This is the twenty-first seat flipped in a special election by the Democrats since the beginning of the Trump Administration. Democratic candidate Steve Stern won easily with 59.1 percent of the major party vote—12.7 points above Democratic Performance Index and 7.2 points above Hillary Clinton’s vote share in 2016. This result further solidifies the notion that well-educated suburban districts are essential to Democratic prospects. According to the most recent measurement, 46.4 percent of voters in this district have at least a college degree, and the median household income is above $100,000. From a wider perspective, this result should send a warning signal to Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin who represents the 1st Congressional District, including this area. Should these results accurately portend what’s coming, even Peter King (NY-02) could be facing a difficult reelection battle.

New York
Legislative District
Democratic 2018 %
(Special Election)
DPI Hillary Clinton 2016 % Democratic 2016 %
(General Election)
SD037 60.8% 52.1% 61.2% 55.7%
HD009 57.4% 42.4% 38.1% 31.3%
HD010 59.2% 52.0% 53.7% 42.3%
HD102 49.4% 43.4% 38.1% 0.0%
HD107 49.1% 48.3% 47.8% 0.0%
HD142 47.6% 50.1% 46.9% 100%

While Democrats failed to flip New York’s 102nd Assembly District, the results follow a theme, the Democratic candidate lost by just 1.8 points of the major party vote, performing 5.7 points above Democratic Performance Index, and more than 10 points above Hillary Clinton’s vote share in 2016. Moreover, only 20.8 percent of the electorate in this district has a college degree, perhaps an indication that Democrats can widen the scope of their target districts in November.

Despite the obvious reasons for optimism there is also reason for caution, as Democratic candidates in the 107th and 142nd Assembly districts were defeated in close contests that seemed winnable from a statistical standpoint. However the decline from previous elections was insubstantial or non-existent, depending upon whether the presidential or overall Democratic Performance is utilized as the benchmark.

All in all, this was an extraordinarily successful evening for Democrats in New York and Arizona.


2018-04-30: This article was updated to correct the spelling of former State Senator George Latimer’s name.