The Only Thing We Have to Fear

By Michael A. Smith of Emporia State University

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Senator and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey‘s nickname was The Happy Warrior. He worked tirelessly on behalf of causes he championed, and usually seemed joyful when doing so, even though he lived through and served during one of the most divisive periods in modern American history, taking his fair share of abuse in the process.

Perhaps political science can teach us all how to be happy warriors. No realistic observer of today’s politics in the United States, or worldwide, can seriously say “don’t worry, be happy,” as in the song from the 1980s. Democracy and diversity are under a great deal of stress at home and abroad. However, political science remains a useful tool to help stay centered.

Political science is an analytical tool that enables readers to sift through this nonsense, identifying what is important and tossing out the rest. - Michael A. Smith

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post here arguing that like meditation, political science could be an important tool for relaxation. In brief, my point was that there is a lot of hue and cry about politics on social media and elsewhere. Political science is an analytical tool that enables readers to sift through this nonsense, identifying what is important and tossing out the rest. Real-world politics is often a great deal less dramatic than all the carrying on that we see on the social media, cable TV, and perhaps even the family reunion.

Since I wrote, circumstances have overtaken me. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, surprising a lot of observers, forcing us to re-examine our assumptions, and leading to a new era in American politics. Or, is it an aberration? Time will tell. At any rate, my message two years ago needs a re-do. Democracy is in danger in the United States and around the world, with the “strong man” style of leadership becoming increasingly popular, while pluralistic democracy is in peril. What to do?

It is important for citizens to be informed, vote, and take thoughtful, conscientious action, both political and non-political. However there are still a lot of things that many of us do which are a waste of time. Even some political scientists do this, and we should know better. What follow are a number of suggestions to use political science, be happier, and use time more effectively. That includes time spent being active in politics.

Lesson #1: Stop Ranting on Social Media

Nothing characterizes the dysfunctional politics of our age better than social media rants. Give yourself a break. Get off social media, or just use it to keep up with old friends. Do not rely on it for news — it is unreliable, fact-checking is time-consuming, and there is nothing you need to know that cannot be found out from a more traditional news outlet. More importantly, social media rants are ineffective, and here’s why. Long before Facebook, research revealed that people tend to group together with the like-minded. All the way back in 1940, the famous Erie County studies revealed this, while also noting that some people like to rant about politics because they gain “psychic rewards” from doing so. This is really the only benefit, and it can quickly turn into negative energy.

Most of your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat friends probably have similar views to yours. When you rant on social media, all you do is give them something to “like.” The few social media friends you still have that disagree with your politics are extremely unlikely to change their minds. They may unfriend you, they may rant back, or they may ignore you, but they will not shift their opinions. Just let it be.

Lesson #2: A Vote is a Vote

On the eve of the ultra-close 2000 Presidential election, my satirical horoscope in The Onion was as follows, “your carefully considered, policy-based vote will be canceled out by a hairdresser who likes the other guy’s ties.”

So true, although somewhat unfair to hair care professionals, whose votes are presumably no more and no less carefully-considered than those working in other professions. It is important to be a frequent voter, and even consider taking other political action, such as volunteering or giving money to an interest group, candidate, or party that advocates for something about which you are passionate. This time is well-spent, and can help change election outcomes and give a feeling of doing civic duty. However, once you have voted, you have voted. Intense feelings about the election do not increase your vote.

A case in point is the difference between supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, and those backing Secretary Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination. Bernie had the energy — his supporters appeared more passionate than Hillary’s, which gave him an advantage in caucus states. However, Bernie supporters also made the classic mistake of conflating intensity with number of votes. The outcome of the 2016 Democratic primaries and caucuses was not close. Clinton captured 55% of the popular vote, to 43% for Sanders, all before a single superdelegate cast a convention ballot. This is not to dismiss Sanders or his supporters — in another blog post, I challenged them to start a political movement like the conservative Young Americans for Freedom in the 1960s and 70s, but on the liberal side this time. Sanders’ supporters have a lot to contribute. My point is not to dismiss them, but to point out while they had passion, Hillary had the numbers. Unfortunately, because her supporters were less enthusiastic and outspoken, many Sanders supporters interpreted that to mean that Clinton only gained the Democratic nomination due to superdelegates, which is incorrect. She won more votes — over 3 and a half million more — from her often low-key supporters than Sanders did from his.

A vote counts the same, no matter the voter’s intensity. It is especially important not to forget those low-turnout elections like local races, party primaries, and the midterm elections happening right now, when your vote really does count for more, because it is one of a smaller number. Get informed, get involved, and vote. Then, get on with life. A vote will still count the same whether the voter obsesses about it or not. You voted. You did your civic duty. Time to get on with life.

Lesson #3: Strategize

It is a truism of effective campaigning, and effective lobbying, to identify those who are undecided and target the message to them. In the case of voters, there are really two groups of undecideds: those who have not yet decided whether or not they are going to vote, and those who have not yet decided for whom they are going to vote. Appeals directed at anyone else are a waste of time. When a candidate is campaigning, she is either getting out the vote, or persuading voters. Period. There is nothing else to do. Patting supporters on the back is smug and self-righteous. Ranting at your opponent is a waste of time, unless doing so motivates your base or persuades undecideds, which it often does not.

Take political action, but take smart political action. That starts with identifying what you want to get done, and then identifying those who are undecided or inactive, and either persuading them, getting them to be active, or both. Neither preaching to the choir nor ranting and raving is time well spent. Take a nap or go for a walk instead.

Lobbying is the same way, as is legislative leadership. It begins by identifying the strong supporters, the strong opponents, and the undecideds. Then comes the time for political action: smart political action. There is no other kind. If it is not precisely targeted, then don’t bother.

Lesson #4: Look at the Big Picture

President Donald Trump won the state of Kansas, where I teach, by a comfortable 20 points. However, this does not mean Kansans endorse the more disturbing aspects of his unusual political campaign, and now his presidency. I consult for a poll called Kansas Speaks, run by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University. Our pre-election, 2016 data was very clear. In this heavily Republican state, Kansans did not like Donald Trump, rating him very low on two particular categories: trustworthiness, and understanding people like me. How did he win here? Simple. Besides not having the Republican label, Hillary Clinton was also rated even lower by the voters on these same categories. Many political scientists, such as me, seriously underestimated Hillary Clinton‘s personal unpopularity with voters. However, this does not mean that the American people gave Donald Trump a sweeping endorsement of his more-disturbing campaign promises. It is important to look at the big picture. The midterm elections going on right now will tell another important part of the story: one which is ever-evolving.

Lesson #5: FDR was Right

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Indeed.

Political and social scientists are quick to point out that much of our time spent in fear is wasted time. Human beings have evolved in such a way as to become particularly concerned with so-called “focusing events” in which a lot of destruction happens in a single space, particularly a one which can be shot on video. The recent massacre at a  Pittsburgh synagogue is a case in point. It was a horrible tragedy, in which 11 people, including a Holocaust survivor, lost their lives to murder. The coming together of the people of Pittsburgh and across the nation has been heartwarming, and it should continue. This coming Saturday has been declared a special day, in which non-Jews are encouraged to attend synagogue to learn about the Jewish faith and show solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters. What a great cause!

As a matter of fact, this is exactly the right thing to do; go to service. Religious services, and other public activities, are still relatively safe. The horror in Pittsburgh and other mass shootings are heartbreaking. It is good to honor the victims and call for interfaith understanding and healing. On the other hand, one thing not to do is live in fear.

As social scientists remind us, the probability of an American being killed in a domestic or international terrorist attack is very low. How low? Lower than the probability of being killed by one’s own clothes. It is much lower than the probability of a shorter life due to heart disease, undetected cancer, or untreated diabetes: the real killers. In fact, the situation is so extreme, the one social scientist estimated that more Americans died after the September 11 attacks than during the attacks themselves because, due to fear, they drove instead of flying (auto travel is much more dangerous than flying.) Now, get back on that plane.

FDR nailed it. Do not be afraid. And, get a colonoscopy. Eat healthy, exercise, and get plenty of sleep and outdoor time. Wear safety equipment when operating motor vehicles, including seatbelts, helmets, and life vests, depending on the vehicle. If you have suicidal ideations, get help immediately. On the other hand, the probability is really quite low that you will die in a commercial airline crash (small aircraft are another matter), a terrorist attack, or any other focusing event. But, be careful with those clothes!

Fear is what domestic and foreign terrorists want. Don’t let them win. Take care of yourself, and that includes not spending time on irrational fears or pointless political rants.

My blog post from a few years ago was a bit Pollyanna-ish. Things have, indeed,             deteriorated in the United States and elsewhere, since I posted. There are things to worry about. However, many people who are upset about these developments are still spending their time very unproductively. Venting to kindred spirits or ranting at political opponents will not win hearts and minds. Certain targeted comments and directed political activity, such as being a reasonably well-informed frequent voter are well worth doing. Taking it to the next level with intentional political activity, such as spending Election Day walking door-to-door for a Get Out The Vote campaign, or giving money to a favorite political cause, are also good.

The bottom line is, political science can still find a way to a better life, by showing how much of our psychic energy is being wasted on unproductive political rants and irrational fears. This is no time to say “don’t worry, be happy.” It is a time for thoughtful, carefully-focused political action, focused on where it will do the most good, and casting out those activities which cause a great deal of pain and are highly unproductive. There is still time for relaxation and meditation, and political science can still help you live a better life.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

Generation Z voters could make waves in 2018 midterm elections

By Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Tufts University

Unlike the much-studied millennials, we don’t know much about Generation Z, who now make up most of the 18- to 24-year-old voting bloc.

These young people started first grade after 9/11, were born with the internet, grew up with smartphones and social media and practiced active-shooter drills in their classrooms.

In 2018, they have taken an active role in political activism on issues like gun control, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. For example, Parkland high school students started the movement against gun violence and named voting as a way to support the movement.

Yet, many people are skeptical about Generation Z’s commitment to voting. For instance, The Economist explained, in a piece titled “Why Young People Don’t Vote,” that “young people today do not feel they have much of a stake in society.”

Will Generation Z affect the midterm elections?

https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/306/e3ef64f9ac2ae13147f69d92514b90ec3d3359d1/site/index.html

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, where we do research, has been watching young people’s civic and political behaviors for nearly 20 years. This fall, my colleagues and I are conducting two large-scale national surveys of 2,087 Americans ages 18 to 24 to document and understand what Gen Zs are thinking, feeling and doing when it comes to politics.

So far, the data point to a surge in political engagement, intention to vote and outreach between friends to encourage voting. Gen Zers may be voting for the first time, but they are certainly not new to politics.

All signs point to youth wave

Young voters have a reputation of not showing up to the polls, especially in midterm elections. This trend goes back 40 years.

There are a few ways we can find out how likely it is that people in Generation Z will turn out to vote.

First, we can just ask. In our survey, 34 percent of youth said they are “extremely likely” to vote in November. While a survey can’t predict exact turnout numbers, data from previous surveys we’ve done using this approach have been close to actual turnout numbers. Other evidence supports this measure of intent to vote: Voter registration among young people is up in key battleground states and overall.

Research also shows that activism and intent to vote are strongly correlated. So, in our survey we also asked young people about activism, such as participating in protests, union strikes, sit-ins and walk-outs.

The proportion of young people who join protests and marches tripled since the fall of 2016, from 5 percent to 15 percent. Participation is especially high among young people who are registered as Democrats.

Finally, we found that young people are paying attention to politics more than they were in 2016. In 2016, about 26 percent of young people said they were paying at least some attention to the November elections. This fall, the proportion of youth who report that they are paying attention to the midterm races rose to 46 percent.

It’s clear that more young people are actively engaged in politics this year than 2016.

Why?

Cynicism and worry aren’t obstacles

To learn more about what might be motivating Generation Z to vote, we asked our survey participants to rate their level of agreement with three statements.

“I worry that older generations haven’t thought about young people’s future.”

“I’m more cynical about politics than I was 2 years ago.”

“The outcomes of the 2018 elections will make a significant impact to everyday issues involving the government in my community, such as schools and police.”

In this year’s survey, we found that young people who feel cynical are far more likely to say they will vote. Other research has found that cynicism about politics can suppress or drive electoral engagement depending on the contexts.

Among young people who said “yes” to all three of those questions, more than half – 52 percent – said they are extremely likely to vote. Among young people who said “no” to all three of those questions, only 22 percent were extremely likely to vote.

Our poll results suggest political involvement in this generation is far above the levels we usually see among youth, especially in midterm election cycles.

In fact, almost 3 out of 4 youth – 72 percent – said they believe that dramatic change could occur in this country if people banded together. Gen Z is certainly aware of the challenges ahead but they are hopeful and actively involving themselves and friends in politics. Beyond almost any doubt, youth are involved and feel ready to make a dramatic change in the American political landscape.The Conversation


Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You can trust the polls in 2018, if you read them carefully

By Josh Pasek, University of Michigan and Michael Traugott, University of Michigan

File 20180910 123125 4v5a1d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A Michigan township collects votes in 2016.
Barbara Kalbfleisch/shutterstock

On the morning of Nov. 8, 2016, many Americans went to bed confident that Hillary Clinton would be elected the nation’s first female president.

Their confidence was driven, in no small part, by a pervasive message that Clinton was ahead in the polls and forecasts leading up to the election. Polling aggregation sites, such as Huffington Post’s Pollster and The New York Times Upshot blog, reported that Clinton was virtually certain to win. It soon became clear that these models were off the mark.

Since then, forecasters and media prognosticators have dissected what went wrong. The finger-pointing almost inevitably landed on public opinion polling, especially at the state level. The polls, critics argued, led modelers and the public to vastly overestimate the likelihood of a Clinton win.

With the 2018 elections coming up, many in the public have expressed their skepticism that public opinion polls can be trusted this time around. Indeed, in an era where a majority of American adults no longer even have landline telephones, where many people answer only when calls originate from a known number, and where pollsters’ calls are sometimes flagged as likely spam, there are lots of reasons to worry.

But polling firms seem to be going about their business as usual, and those of us who do research on the quality of public opinion research are not particularly alarmed about what’s going on.

Looking back

One might be tempted to think that those of us in the polling community are simply out to lunch. But the data from 2016 tell a distinctly different story.

The national polls were fairly accurate both in their national estimate of the popular vote in 2016 and in historical perspective. In the average preelection national poll, Clinton was ahead of Donald Trump by 3.3 percentage points. She proceeded to win the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points. Pollsters missed the mark by a mere 1.2 percentage points on average.

The polls in the Upper Midwest states missed by larger margins. These polls were conducted in ways that pollsters widely know to be suboptimal. They relied heavily on robocalls; on surveys of people who volunteer to take surveys on the internet; and on samples of respondents from voter files with incomplete information.

What went wrong

So why was the 2016 election so shocking? The big reason wasn’t the polls, it was our expectations.

In the last few years, members of the public have come to expect that a series of highly confident models can tell us exactly what is going to happen in the future. But in the runup to the 2016 election, these models made a few big, problematic assumptions.

For one, they largely assumed that the different errors that different polls had were independent of one another. But the challenges that face contemporary polling, such as the difficulty of reaching potential respondents, can induce small but consistent errors across almost all polls.

When modelers treat errors as independent of one another, they make conclusions that are far more precise than they should be. The average poll is indeed the best guess at the outcome of an election, but national polling averages are often off by around 2 percentage points. State polls can be off by even more at times.

In addition, polling aggregators and public polling information have been flooded by a deluge of lower-quality surveys based on suboptimal methods. These methods can sometimes produce accurate estimates, but the processes by which they do so is not well-understood on theoretical grounds. There are lots of reasons to think that these methods may not produce consistently accurate results in the future. Unfortunately, there will likely continue to be lots of low-quality polls, because they are so much less expensive to conduct.

Research out of our lab suggests yet another reason that the polls were shocking to so many: When ordinary people look at the evidence from polling, just as with other sources of information, they tend to see the results they desire.

During the 2016 election campaign, we asked Americans to compare two preelection polls – one where Clinton was leading and one where Trump was ahead. Across the board, Clinton supporters told us that the Clinton-leading poll was more accurate than the Trump-leading poll. Trump supporters reported exactly the opposite perceptions. In other studies, we saw the same phenomenon when people were exposed to poll results showing majorities in favor of or opposed to their own views on policy issues such as gun control or abortion.

What polls really say

So, what does this all mean for someone reading the polls in 2018?

You don’t have to ignore the results – just recognize that all polling has some error. While even the experts may not know quite which way that error is going to point, we do have a sense of the size of that error. Error is likely to be smaller when considering a polling average instead of an individual poll.

It’s also a good bet that the actual result will be within 3 percentage points for an averaging of high-quality national polls. For similarly high-quality state polls, it will likely be within more like 5 percentage points, because these polls usually have smaller sample sizes.

What makes a high-quality poll? It will either use live interviewers with both landlines and cellphones or recruit respondents using offline methods to take surveys online. Look for polls conducted around the same time to see whether they got the same result. If not, see whether they sampled the same kind of people, used the same interviewing technique or used a similar question wording. This is often the explanation for reported differences.

The good news is that news consumers can easily find out about a poll’s quality. This information is regularly included in news stories and is shown by many poll aggregators. What’s more, pollsters are increasingly transparent about the methods they use.

Polls that don’t use these methods should be taken with a big grain of salt. We simply don’t know enough about when they will succeed and when they will fail.The Conversation

 

About the Authors:  Josh Pasek, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan and Michael Traugott, Research Professor at the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Primary Elections: The Value of an Endorsement

Primary election

By Chapman Rackaway of the University of West Georgia

How involved should political party leaders get in primary elections? Should a President endorse a primary candidate, despite standards of public party neutrality? Party organizations were once used to determine nominees internally in caucuses or conventions, with elite leaders choosing nominees they believed best represented the party. Primary elections disrupted that process. Now the general public, even those not loyal to the party, could help choose nominees. Outsiders such as, say, Donald Trump, can contest and even win party nominations over the wishes of party leaders. In the Primary Era, party leaders and elites have generally chosen to remain publicly silent (if often supportive behind-the-scenes) during nomination contests. The involvement of President Donald Trump in Republican primaries this year is thus an important development.

Whether it’s a prominent celebrity, organized interest, or popular elected official, candidates love to get endorsements. The value of an endorsement might seem minimal, but sometimes they matter. Not all endorsements are created equal. Primary elections put parties in a difficult place: party elites, focused on general election success, value electability. When party leaders do have primary influence, as Democrats do in Presidential nominations with superdelegates, losing candidates complain of the system being “rigged” against them. Bernard Sanders’ supporters made that very complaint after his 2016 loss to Hillary Clinton. Party organizations can struggle to unify behind nominees after divisive primaries, making the safest option in primaries non-participation.

No sitting President has before endorsed candidates in party primaries. But Donald Trump’s involvement in two gubernatorial primaries – Georgia and Kansas – show us the power of the endorsement and what it means for the parties.

In Georgia, a five-way open contest for the open Republican nomination produced no majority winner and a July runoff between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Cagle would normally have been considered a near-lock to succeed in the runoff against Kemp. Cagle only needed to activate the same 39% of voters and win another eleven percent among supporters of the also-rans to secure the nomination. Cagle appeared in polls to be well ahead of Kemp when one of the also-ran candidates, Clay Tippins, released a recording where Cagle admitted to playing politics with another candidate. Cagle had supported a bill he would normally not to force the candidates running from state Senate seats into a difficult vote. The Tippins recording hurt Cagle, bringing his lead down to single digits. When Trump endorsed Kemp a week before the vote, though, he surged from a near-tie to an almost forty percentage point victory.

Leading candidates in runoffs rarely lose, about as rarely as party leaders publicly involve themselves in a race. As Hans Hassell shows in “Party Control of Party Primaries: Party Influence in Nominations for the US Senate” (2015), party leadership tend to get their favored candidates nominated but do so behind-the-scenes. Trump not only endorsed a candidate but supported the candidate seen as less-comfortable with Georgia’s GOP leadership.

A day before the Kansas primary, the President endorsed another sitting Secretary of State seeking a governorship, Kris Kobach. Trump’s endorsement of Kobach was expected because Kobach and Trump have a history of mutual support. Kobach was an early supporter of Trump’s 2016 campaign, served on the President’s ill-fated Election Assistance Commission, was under consideration for a cabinet post, and has had Donald Trump Jr. host fundraisers for him.

Trump’s Kobach endorsement was noteworthy because it was given where an incumbent governor was running. Not only did Trump violate the norm against elected and party leadership insinuating themselves in primaries, Trump again went against established party leadership.

Trump’s support didn’t have the massive impact on Kobach’s vote total as it appeared to have with Kemp. Pro-Trump voters were likely already aligned with Kobach, and he won a narrow victory over incumbent Jeff Colyer.

Regardless of the outcome of the Kansas gubernatorial primary, the result for parties is the same: party elected officials are now actively engaged in primary endorsements. The norm of party neutrality in primaries has been violated. Candidates will see Kemp’s and Kobach’s success and want the President or another high-ranking party leader to endorse them in their primary. The idea of a party that waits for the public to decide their nominee and then rallies to support that nominee has been retired. Trump’s precedent may open the door to more primary endorsements, changing the role of the party in nomination contests irretrievably. How will parties respond to the increased demand for their favor during their primaries? The answer could have long-reaching implications for future primaries.

About the author: Chapman Rackaway serves the University of West Georgia as Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science where he teaches classes in Political Parties, Political Campaign Management, Interest Groups and Lobbying, and Campaign Finance. You can also find Rackaway on Twitter and his website.

Blue Wave, Red Wave; What Wave? No Wave

RedWaveBlueWave

By Chapman Rackaway of the University of West Georgia

Political scientists and pundits alike face a contradictory challenge in the concept of the “wave” election. Journalists use the term commonly, and 2018 is no exception. The hashtag #bluewave is a constant presence on political Twitter feeds, and a search reveals hundreds of news articles discussing the likelihood of Democrats benefitting from just such as wave. What constitutes a wave election is a complicated matter, however, and needs some definition. Is a wave election simply when one party does appreciably better than the other? Is a specific seat gain enough to call an election a wave? Insinuated in tweets and stories about a 2018 blue wave is a sense that voters nationwide have gravitated intentionally towards Democrats with the specific goal of resisting the presidency of Donald Trump. Political science can help us bust that myth, and see that national intent during midterm elections does not exist. Democrats may do very well nationwide in 2018, but that does not mean that a national wave of support is why Democrats look to succeed.

We know some basic evidence from the discipline that puts the wave talk in perspective. First of all, incumbents are rarely vulnerable, but Jacobson (2015) shows that the incumbency advantage has been eroding recently. Still the best opportunity for Democrats to make gains in Congress or in state legislative seats is for a large number of Republicans to retire. In Congress, at least, Democrats can rely on a higher level of Republican exposure than in the last six election cycles. A total of forty-four GOP incumbents are retiring from Congress, the highest since 31 left before the 2012 elections. And Democrats have a much lower exposure rate in the House, with only twenty departures as of early August.

The Senate also looks good for Democrats, with the need to take just two Republican seats away to wrest majority control. Of the seven races listed as “toss-up” by RealClearPolitics, four are held by Democrats while three are Republican. A tied chamber is certainly possible but the Senate seems “wave-proof” in 2018.

State legislative races also can factor into a “wave” election, and again Republicans have a high level of exposure. Republicans hold majorities in 31 state legislatures, compared with fourteen Democrat-controlled assemblies and four are split between the two parties (Nebraska’s non-partisan legislature is not included here). Governing magazine rates ten GOP chambers as leaning or tossups, and Democrats have seven chambers leaning with no tossups.

Democrats have a target-rich environment, and have performed very well in special elections which Smith and Brunell (2010) show yield some predictive power. Turnout for adherents to the in-power party tends to drop off in midterm elections, too, which should hurt Republicans. Previously local-first races into a nationalized environment (see Abramowitz and Webster 2016). Add a divisive President with a lower approval rating than other recent Presidents at their midterm to mobilize Democrats, and together, the anecdotes suggest the components of a wave.

But one important factor suggests that the Democratic wave will not happen: negative partisanship. We know that the nature of partisan identification has been changing for some time, and while support for one’s own party has remained stable, the disapproval voters feel towards the opposing party has increased. Independents, long considered the swinging gate in between the parties upon which elections have hinged, are the key to Democratic success and the least likely group to vote. Calling an election a wave must mean that there is a surge of support behind it, and those support surges do not happen in the current partisan environment. Instead of getting a boost from independent and leaning-partisan swing voters who cast ballots for the opposing party in the previous election, partisans today must do a better job of mobilizing their base.

For Democrats to approximate a wave in 2018, they need to register more voters, and across the country most state-level registrations of new voters has been flat. A wave of anti-Trump resistance will not flood former leaning-Republican voters to embrace local-level Democratic candidates. Republicans do not trust Democrats (and vice versa) while independents are unreliable saviors. If Democrats do have great success in the 2018 elections, it will come instead from a methodical, state-by-state process of registering and mobilizing base Democratic voters.

Calling successful elections “waves” does a disservice to the voting public, advancing a narrative of the electorate’s motivations that does not sync with their real preferences and behaviors. Wins happen in politics, waves stay on the water.

About the author: Chapman Rackaway serves the University of West Georgia as Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science where he teaches classes in Political Parties, Political Campaign Management, Interest Groups and Lobbying, and Campaign Finance. You can also find Rackaway on Twitter and his website.