When examined individually, special elections (political races that happen between regular election cycles, which usually happen to fill vacant positions in government) are not typically indicative of national political trends — but an analysis of special elections over the past several months indicates that Democrats are outperforming Republicans in local races across the country.
Within a special state legislative election in New Hampshire on Tuesday, for example, a Democratic candidate, Hal Rafter, defeated his Republican challenger, James Guzofski, by nearly 12 points. Rafter’s victory tightens the gap between the two parties in the state House of Representatives to just one seat, making it a big deal in New Hampshire.
But the district may also be a harbinger of broader shifting political patterns. According to one statistical analysis, the district Rafter won leans 6 points more toward Republicans than the rest of the country does as a whole — meaning that the Democratic candidate won the contest with an 18-point overperformance.
Notably, former President Donald Trump narrowly won the district in the 2020 presidential election over President Joe Biden. That was before he attempted to overturn the results of that election. Guzofski — a Trump loyalist who denies the legitimate outcome of the 2020 race — campaigned heavily on those beliefs, showcasing that, even in strong GOP-leaning districts like these, a pro-Trump message may falter.
A Democrat in another special election race in Pennsylvania for a state legislative district also did better than expected on Tuesday. Democrat Lindsay Powell was expected to win her race against Republican Erin Autenreith, as the district skews more “blue” than most. But Powell won the race by a projected 30 percentage points — 8 points better than Biden won the district in 2020 against Trump.
Powell’s win is impressive for another reason. Over the past year, there have been five separate special election races in Pennsylvania that could have changed partisan control of the state House of Representatives toward Republicans. But in all five of those races, Democrats won, staving off the change in party control in that legislative chamber.
These small state House district wins for Democrats may not mean a lot on their own, but they’re part of a larger pattern being seen across the rest of the country — that of Democrats outperforming Republicans in these kinds of special elections. In an analysis by statistics website FiveThirtyEight, out of 30 such races that have happened this year, Democratic candidates have fared better than Republicans on average by 11 points.
The special elections wins for Democrats from this year, and specifically from Tuesday, are likely to continue, predicted MSNBC’s Chris Hayes during his program on Wednesday, in large part because voters are rejecting the anti-democracy rhetoric that Trump and his loyalists are touting.
“There is a strong case to be made that [special election results from earlier this week] tell us way more about the state of our democracy and the political strength of the pro-democracy forces in this country than all of today’s political headlines put together,” he said.
“This trend has done a much better job of telling us where the pulse of the nation really is than a lot of polling, and certainly a lot of the political discourse,” Hayes added.
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