NY-22 Minute: 2018 and 2014 Two Very Different Midterms for New York By Luke Perry
National election coverage typically focuses on what happened and what’s next. Often overlooked is how Political Scientists regularly look back to gauge empirical trends that influence and explain the moment.
The midterm results in 2014 and 2018 reflect two very different presidents and two very different outcomes, though parallels exist. The party of unpopular presidents typically lose seats in the House, while Senate elections largely depend on which party controls most of the seats in play.
One difference was turnout, 36 percent in 2014 compared to 50 percent this year. Elevated levels of political engagement by both Democrats and Republicans is one byproduct of the Trump presidency. This was reflected locally in Utica and Oneida County, both of whom experienced atypically high turnout for a midterm election.
One similarity was the unpopularity of the president. President Obama had a 43 percent approval/52 percent disapproval rating in November of 2014. President Trump had a 42 percent approval/53 disapproval rating this November.
Importantly, the strategic approach of each president and party differed. Vulnerable Democrats ran away from President Obama, who campaigned only sparingly. In 2018, vulnerable Republicans embraced President Trump, who actively campaigned on their behalf and publicly framed the election as a referendum on his presidency.
In 2014, Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and expanded their majority in the House by 13 seats. Democrats gained 40 seats this year, well beyond the 23 needed to win the House, and a higher than average party loss for a president whose approval rating is under 50 percent.
Republicans did add two Senate seats thanks to a favorable electoral map. Prior to the election, Democrats controlled 26 out of the 35 seats in play this midterm. Democrats had to hold all 26 and win two of the nine seats held by Republicans to control the Senate, a highly improbable outcome.
In our home state, 2014 was a great year for Republicans, 2018 for Democrats. Upstate Republican challenger John Katko (NY-24) easily defeated Democratic incumbent Dan Maffei in 2014. Elise Stefanik (NY-21) became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, winning an open seat election to replace Democrat Bill Owens. Republican Lee Zeldin (NY-1) defeated incumbent Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop, while GOP incumbent Chris Gibson (NY-19) was comfortably reelected.
In 2018, three New York GOP House incumbents were defeated. Anthony Brindisi (NY-22) and Antonio Delgado (NY-19) erased two Republican freshmen, Claudia Tenney and John Faso, becoming the first Democrats to win these districts following redistricting after the 2010 election. Downstate, Max Rose (NY-11) defeated Dan Donovan, the only House Republican from New York City.
U.S. politics can now be described as a ball spinning on one’s finger, quickly and wobbly. The ball may steady itself or could spin out of control. One certainty is the interconnection of New York and national politics as New Yorkers shape, and are shaped by, U.S. elections and their aftermath.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College
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