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How Democrats are dominating special elections — in one graph

- December 13, 2017
Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones acknowledges supporters at the election night party in Birmingham, Ala. (Reuters)

So you may have heard — possibly — that Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in Tuesday night’s special election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama.

The victory was predicated on many things: bad choices by Republican leaders, a drop-off in Republican turnout, strong African American turnout and shifts to Jones among college-educated whites, write-in votes that exceeded Jones’s margin of victory, and, needless to say, the work of reporters here at The Washington Post who broke the allegations of Moore’s behavior toward young women.

The victory looks all the more notable in context. Daily Kos Elections data on 68 special elections since Donald Trump’s victory show just how frequently Democratic candidates have exceeded Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in 2016.

In 63 percent (43 out of 68) of these races, the Democratic candidate’s margin was larger than Clinton’s. Across all 68 races, the average shift was 10 points in the Democrats’ favor.

In Alabama, however, the Democrats did much better: a 30-point shift. This is a larger shift than in all but nine of the previous 2017 special elections — one made even more significant because it actually elected Jones.

And the special elections don’t capture all the Democrats’ recent successes either:

This is yet another reminder of how much of politics is cyclical. Success in one election hardly augurs a realignment. This was as true in 2016 as it was in 2012.

More often than not, success actually leads to less success and even outright failure — as voters react against the very party that won the White House only months or even weeks earlier.

But now you can see the cyclical pattern not only in these special elections but in approval of President Trump and the many issues on which overall public opinion has shifted against Trump’s position.

Now the only question is how big the shift will be in November 2018.