Pignanelli and Webb: More cogitations on election 2018

Election Day is fading in the rearview mirror, but obsessive nerds like us are still reviewing numbers and election minutiae. Like other political pundits, we specialize in dissecting the data to support our biases. We’re happy to share our conclusions.

Although Utah Republicans prevailed, overall, in state and local races, there were some gains for Democrats. Why the mixed bag?

Pignanelli: “Tip O’Neill famously said, ‘All politics is local.’ He was right then. Boy, is he wrong now. In the age of Trump, all politics is national.” — Chuck Todd, NBC News

A bunch of active children in a kiddie pool create a few waves and mostly choppy waters. Utah’s recent election was a giant pond filled with the vigorous forces of enthusiasm for and against President Donald TrumpMitt Romney, a superheated economy, cultural confusion, suburban angst, millennials, unprecedented initiatives and mail-in ballots. The resulting chop explains inconsistent results.

Three congressional contests produced expected outcomes, but the 4th District remains undecided (at the time of this writing). Local Democrats produced some gains in the Legislature. Romney’s endorsements helped other candidates. Utahns supported medical marijuana but thumped a gasoline tax.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as political candidates, strive to maintain distance between the campaign and their faith. Unfortunately, this profound tradition was briefly blemished by a negative mail piece against the admired Rep. Patrice Arent. Her opponent quoted a well-known battle cry from the Book of Mormon to urge support for him, because Arent is Jewish. Our ecumenical Gov. Gary Herbert rushed to her defense, with respect and humor, as did Deseret Digital Media. Arent was resoundingly re-elected. Another reason to love Utah.

Utah society — and politics — are changing, as reflected last Tuesday. Thus, expect more splashing within the pool.

Webb: Election 2018 was a pretty good environment for Democrats, even in Utah. In many respects, it was a nationalized election focused on Trump, who is not very popular in Utah, especially among suburban women. Trump haters turned out in big numbers to send him a message.

In addition, the ballot measures, especially medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion, encouraged turnout by moderates and liberals. Yes, the Republicans had Romney on the ballot, but his win was assured, so not many Republicans were energized by that contest.

So it’s not surprising that in a few races, Democrats did a bit better than usual.

I’m surprised, given the circumstances, that Ben McAdams didn’t do better against Mia Love. My guess is that the negative campaigning disappointed a lot of voters because it was so out of character for McAdams.

A couple more surprises: I thought the Proposition 4 independent redistricting commission would win fairly easily. I also thought voters would reject the amendment allowing the Legislature to call itself into special session. The voters fooled me.

I was disappointed that the education funding opinion question did poorly. Utah voters routinely list education as the state’s No. 1 issue. But they don’t want to pay for excellent education. We will never be a top education state while spending less per pupil than any state in the country. Our young people deserve better.

Nationally, this was one of the most unusual midterm elections in a long time. Again, why the mixed bag?

Pignanelli: Never before has the party in power lost the House but gained in the Senate. Furthermore, the dynamic of a strong economy with an unpopular president is unique. This year featured a record number of female candidates at federal and state levels (including Utah). The motivations to support or protest the president were a major source of energy among the electorate. All these anomalies and motivations delivered a strange result — and will continue to do so.

Webb: Most Americans are good people, and most are politically centrist. But the national political parties and national politicians don’t reflect this centrism. Hanging on to power has become more important than solving problems. Thus, our elections reflect the national partisanship and acrimony — a country deeply divided.

In historical context, this was an average midterm. The blue wave was a blue ripple. The GOP House losses were average for a first midterm. But picking up Senate seats was better than average for Republicans.

What does it all mean going forward?

Pignanelli: The president’s press conference on Wednesday sent a strong signal he is not changing course, but doubling down. Thus, national and Utah GOP candidates must decide to publicly embrace or reject his style. Further, they will need a strategy on millennials and minorities. Democrats cannot adopt overly progressive mantras and overreach on impeachment activities. Everyone (but Trump) will need to adjust to a changing political landscape.

Webb: There is talk of bipartisanship and finding common ground in Congress. Don’t hold your breath. Democratic presidential candidates and the national news media will hammer Trump at every opportunity. And Trump will aggressively hit back. I expect gridlock and nastiness.

Democrats will probably overreach, giving Trump a fairly straightforward path to re-election in 2020. But to win, he needs to reclaim the suburbs. And that means toning down his anger and rhetoric while still pushing forward on conservative policy.

NOTE: We mourn the passing of our friend and mentor the prominent pollster Dan Jones. This political genius was a positive political influence on thousands of Utahns.