When it comes to the results of election day,” there are two potential outcomes that equally excite the politically inclined: firstly, and most obviously, there are the “toss-ups,” races which are so close that they could potentially swing to either candidate. Secondly, we have the opposite of a toss-up, which are landslides, races that are completely uncontested and result in a blowout victory for the winning candidate. Every several election cycles or so, there is a shift in the general will of the public, and that change is reflected in the results that are read come election night. Races that should normally be a landslide for one party become toss-ups, and races that should normally be contested quickly turn into landslides across the board for one party. When this alignment occurs, and everything appears to go right on election night for one party, the event is called a “wave election.”
To understand the impact of wave elections, as well as how they come to be, I will briefly summarize the circumstances and climate of the notable waves of 2006, in favor of the democrats, and 2010, in favor of the republicans. After 12 years of republican dominance in the legislature, democrats captured the both the House and Senate majorities in the 2006 elections, as well as a majority of governorships. There were several factors leading to the democratic wave, but two were considered the most significant: the unpopularity the Iraq War, and the scandal ridden republican leadership in congress. Independently, these factors may very well have been enough to ensure a democratic advantage; combined, however, they resulted in a democratic gain of 31 house seats, 6 senate seats, and 6 governorships.
When 2010 came around, though, republicans got their revenge. Following the passage of the Affordable Care act and the bailout of Wall Street, democrats were crushed by one of the biggest waves in American political history, losing 63 seats in the House, 6 in the senate, and 6 governorships. Unlike previous election cycles, where waves were largely formed by dissatisfaction with war, scandal or the economy, republicans were able to achieve total victory through grassroots organizing and a lack of democratic enthusiasm. Republicans are still being rewarded by the benefits of the 2010 election, although the party may soon end with democrats honing in on 2018.
After huge gains for democrats across the country last week, but mainly in Virginia and New Jersey, many are forecasting that the 2018 elections are shaping to be a massive wave in their favor. Democrats won both governorships by large margins, acquired total governmental control of the west coast, and somehow managed to win or at least come close to winning the Virginia House of Delegates. These victories are in addition to these various statewide races that democrats won, many of which were in republican strongholds against strong incumbents. If democrats can sustain these results going into next year, then it is likely that there recent victories will be replicated on a fully national scale. Additionally, there are already several factors that could be conducive to a democratic wave in 2018, aside from the 2017 results. For example, nobody knows how far Robert Mueller’s FBI investigation will go and what it will find. Already plagued by scandal after scandal, it is difficult to see how the Trump administration and republicans would recover from any clear revelations of collusion with the Russian government. Some of the biggest waves have occurred after major scandals, such as in 2006 and in 1974 following Watergate. Couple scandal with an unpopular president and a lack of any, popular or otherwise, legislative achievements, and 2018 might be a tough year for the republican party.