Early Returns

Are the 2018 Midterms Already Decided?

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Outside influence.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Axios's Mike Allen ran an item Monday with the headline "Democrats May Have Already Won the House," and lots of smart folks on Twitter had a bit of a conniption. But I want to defend the headline, at least to some extent.

Will Democrats win a House majority in November? I have no idea. Maybe they're slight favorites at this point, but I wouldn't argue that very strongly against someone who thinks it's a toss-up. But if they do win, it's likely that their party's early advantage in resources -- especially candidates, but also money and volunteer commitments -- made the difference. 

And while I don't know what the headline writer was thinking, this is an important point. We like to think of voters as the key players in elections. It's also true, however, that voters are strongly influenced by the choices of others within the political system and by the general electoral context. To begin with, most voters vote for the party, not the candidate, even though many voters don't think of themselves as loyal party voters. Then voters are influenced by what they know about the candidate. At the House level, just knowing the name of the candidate is a big part of that, and whether voters have heard of the candidate -- or, even better, know of something they like about the candidate -- is mostly determined by the campaign. 

The rest is a little more complicated. Individual voters decide whether they approve of the president's job performance, which in turn tends to have an effect on their vote. But of course that job performance is not up to voters at all, and even their assessment of the president's job is going to be affected by news coverage and other things. Similar arguments can be made about the state of the economy, war and peace, and other objective facts about how the nation is doing, which are subjectively interpreted by all of us. 

In some ways, the bottom line is we are each free to choose which candidate, if any, to support, and so it ultimately comes down to voters. But it's an illusion that we make those choices without any external influences. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's only when we pretend that democracy depends on autonomous, perhaps disinterested, judgments that democratic reality falls short of what many think of as the democratic ideal. Meanwhile, real democracy can work just fine even if most voters, most of the time, follow the cues of elites ... as long as voters are free to get more involved whenever they want to, just as many did during the Tea Party surge in 2010 and many others are doing now. 

If it's true that democracy works that way, then it's quite possible that the outcomes of this year's midterms already have been determined. Even if we don't know it yet.

1. Melissa Deckman at the Monkey Cage on young women and the 2018 elections.

2. Also at the Monkey Cage, Meghan Leonard on how legislatures use threats against state courts.

3. Good piece on Joe Biden 2020 from Seth Masket. Interesting evidence that the Biden boomlet isn't just media hype. But I agree that it's likely the Biden bubble will burst as currently little-known candidates start impressing party actors. 

4. Dan Drezner thinks Donald Trump will follow through on his protectionist threats.

5. Greg Koger at Mischiefs of Faction on guns as a campaign issue.

6. Julia Azari on ranking the presidents

7. Matthew Atkinson, Darin DeWitt and Joseph Uscinski at the LSE US Center's blog on American politics argue that Trump's approval ratings are explained by a low baseline plus economic performance. 

8. What would liberal trade policy look like? Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker explain. 

9. Bloomberg's Elise Young and Demetrios Pogkas on why the Hudson River tunnels matter.

10. And Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy assesses the new Republican open Senate seat in Mississippi as "solid Republican." That sounds right to me, too. 

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