It turns out the "blue wave" of 2018 was just as much about subtraction as addition: President Trump's best demographic, men without college degrees, was also the likeliest group to sit out the midterms. Their absence left behind an electorate skewed much more towards college-educated voters, particularly women, costing the GOP dozens of mostly suburban House seats and handing Democrats the majority.
According to survey data released by the Census Bureau this week, the total number of women with college degrees who voted fell just 2.4 percent between 2016 and 2018. In an October 2018 NBC/WSJ poll, Trump's approval rating with this group was just 27 percent. Meanwhile, the total number of men without college degrees who voted fell 16.2 percent (this group had given Trump a much higher 64 percent rating).
Trump's Biggest Disapprovers Turned Out Disproportionately in 2018
The silver lining for Republicans in the 2018 data is that there's plenty of upside for Trump and GOP congressional candidates in 2020: overall, per the Census, there were 41.8 million eligible men without college degrees who didn't cast ballots in 2018, versus just 12.9 million eligible women with college degrees who didn't turn out. In all likelihood, many Trump voters will reenter the fold when Trump's name is on the ballot.
But the GOP's standing among college-educated women remains a glaring weakness, given that group's extremely high propensity to vote. According to 2018's major exit poll, white women with degrees — traditionally a swing demographic — broke towards House Democrats 59 percent to 39 percent. And, this group makes up higher shares of the vote in suburban seats that determine control of the House.
The 2018 electorate's enormous gender gap was also reflected at the candidate level. Just one of House Republicans' 30 freshmen is a woman (Rep. Carol Miller of WV-03) and in the 2018 election, their ranks of women were decimated from 23 to just 13. In contrast, 35 of Democrats' 62 new members are women, many of whom were first-time candidates well-positioned to connect with other Trump-disapproving female voters.
House Republicans are well aware that to recover lost ground with professional suburban women, they're probably going to need more candidates who fit that description themselves.
It's early, but so far House Republicans have enjoyed surprising success on that front — especially for a party that just lost its majority. In just about every region of the country, GOP women have been among the first serious candidates to jump into tough races — a result of concerted behind-the-scenes efforts led by Rep. Elise Stefanik, NRCC Recruitment Chair Rep. Susan Brooks and NRCC Executive Director Parker Hamilton Poling.
Just this week, former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich entered the race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Rob Woodall (GA-07), former Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti jumped in against new Democratic Rep. Sean Casten (IL-06), Oklahoma state Sen. Stephanie Bice announced her candidacy against Rep. Kendra Horn (OK-05) and 2018 California nominee Young Kim filed to run again against Rep. Gil Cisneros (CA-39).
These women join a substantial list of others who have gotten an early start, including restaurateur Irina Vilarino against new Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26), former Rep. Karen Handel running for her old seat against Rep. Lucy McBath (GA-06), 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell against new Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02) and state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis against new Rep. Max Rose (NY-11).
And, there are many more women with appealing resumes considering running, including Iowa state Rep. Ashley Hinson against new Rep. Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), National Down Syndrome Society president Sara Weir against new Rep. Sharice Davids (KS-03), Citadel graduate and state Rep. Nancy Mace against new Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01) and state Sen. Lana Theis against new Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08).
There's no guarantee these GOP women will make it through tough primaries or run well enough ahead of Trump to win back districts that have trended blue. After all, it'll be hard to escape Trump's shadow in a presidential year. But if they can build appeal with suburban women who don't like Trump but don't like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's politics either, they could be the key to a Republican rebound.