Polls had raised Democrats expectations that, along with a “Biden win,” they could achieve a “blue wave,” producing a Senate majority by winning three seats, adding House members and taking control of several state legislatures that will conduct redistricting in 2021. Except for Joe Biden making President-elect, the wave was barely a ripple.
In the Senate, two seats were added in Arizona and Colorado, but an Alabama incumbent was defeated. And, a number of seats where Democrats had strong early polling and huge war chests were lost, including in Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. Due to runoffs, two seats in Georgia will be decided on January 5, 2021, but it is very difficult to win one, much less the two needed for Senate control.
Nancy Pelosi suffered a House defeat that snuck up on its optimistic political operatives and pollsters. The nationwide generic polls were plus 7 on Election Day, the same as November 2018 when Democrats swept suburban districts and won the House.
The final national polls had the race with Biden at 51 percent, which is what he received, and Trump at 44 percent. He closed to 47 percent with his late campaign rallies attracting a surge of voters, many of whom had been undecided earlier. They weren’t enough to save Trump in the six states he lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), but analysts and pollsters believe they helped in the five battleground states he carried at the senate, congressional and state level. Also, Republican and 2016 Trump voters who switched to Biden returned to the party for lower level races.
Democrats almost lost control of the House and maintaining discipline will be much more difficult with a narrow margin (see chart above). The defeat immediately led to finger-pointing and public friction among party moderates and liberal activists. Democrats know the danger of the first midterm election in a new presidency. Pelosi lost her majority in 2010 to the first-term Obama backlash from the Tea Party and over health care reform.
The success of Republicans extended to the state legislators Democrats had targeted for pick-ups to get more competitive in 2021 state-level redistricting after the census data is delivered. Democrats raised $100 million to ride the blue wave to win a host of legislative chambers (Republicans had $70 million). As of the final counting, they haven’t won a single chamber after targeting chambers in a host of states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.