How Democrats Are Faring In First Tests Of The Trump Backlash

An analysis of the special elections held since November offers some clues about the party's changing fortunes.

By Alissa Scheller and Daniel Marans

PUBLISHED: Monday, April 10, 2017 9:30 AM EST

UPDATED: Friday, May 12, 2017 1:00 PM EST

President Donald Trump’s election has sparked an enormous groundswell of activism from rank-and-file voters angry about his policies.

Political analysts have wondered whether Democrats can turn this wave of progressive enthusiasm into concrete electoral gains in the 2018 midterms. One way to test that: special elections to fill empty state legislature and congressional seats.

Special elections, which typically motivate much lower turnout than ordinary races, are an important indicator of partisan enthusiasm. That’s why a Delaware state senate race in late February got so much national attention.

As of May 11, there have been 24 special elections (including primaries that will go to runoffs later this year) for state house and senate or congressional seats since Nov. 9, 2016. Between now and November 2017, there will be special elections for 26 more state legislature seats, four U.S. House seats and one U.S. Senate seat. Some Democratic candidates in U.S. House races are generating excitement, including the Bernie Sanders-backing banjo player Rob Quist in Montana and 30-year-old documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff in Georgia.

The Huffington Post has created a visualization comparing Democrats’ margins in each special election held so far this year to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s margin against Trump in the same district last fall. We’ll be updating this resource as more races take place.

Notes: Some Virginia voting districts are split, meaning that some precincts fall in two districts. The full precinct is counted here in the general election results when part of the precinct falls within the district because they are not further broken down. Virginia Districts 9 and 71 had no Republican candidate run in special elections, only a Democrat and Libertarian. Democratic candidates are compared to Libertarians here. Virginia general margins do not include absentee or provisional votes, as these are not available broken down by precinct. Louisiana Districts 8 and 42 had only Republican candidates run in the special elections. Louisiana general margins do not include early or provisional votes, because those are not broken down by precinct, only Parish. Lousiana District 92 had a Democratic candidate, but he dropped out of the race, though his name was still on the ballot.

The implications of special elections for national politics vary greatly. There’s a reason why White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is keeping a close eye on the battle for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, a heavily Republican area where Democrats are putting up a major fight, rather than on other down-ballot races.

It's not all good news for Democrats, however. In Connecticut’s 2nd Senate District, for example, Republicans decreased their loss margin by some 20 percentage points.

But Democrats see promising signs in other areas. In Iowa’s 45th Senate District, where Clinton defeated Trump by about 16 percentage points, Democrat Jim Lykam defeated Mike Gonzales, the GOP candidate, by an almost 50 percentage-point margin in a December special election. And in Minnesota’s House of Representatives District 32B, where Clinton lost to Trump by 29 percentage points, Democrat Laurie Warner lost to Republican Anne Neu by just 6 percentage points.

Check out each of the special election results in greater detail below.

Virginia State Senate District 9

Election Date: January 10, 2017

Virginia State Senate District 22

Election Date: January 10, 2017

Virginia House of Delegates District 85

Election Date: January 10, 2017

Virginia House of Delegates District 71

Election Date: February 7, 2017

Iowa Senate District 45

Election Date: December 27, 2016

Iowa House of Representatives District 89

Election Date: January 31, 2017

Minnesota House of Representatives District 32B

Election Date: February 14, 2017

Delaware State Senate District 10

Election Date: February 25, 2017

Connecticut State Senate District 2

Election Date: February 28, 2017

Connecticut State Senate District 32

Election Date: February 28, 2017

Kansas Congressional District 4

Election Date: April 11, 2017

Notes: Precinct data not yet available for Connecticut districts. Some Virginia voting districts are split, meaning that some precincts fall in two districts. The full precinct is counted here in the general election results when part of the precinct falls within the district because they are not further broken down. Virginia Districts 9 and 71 had no Republican candidate run in special elections, only a Democrat and Libertarian. Democratic candidates are compared to Libertarians here. Virginia general margins do not include absentee or provisional votes, as these are not available broken down by precinct. Louisiana Districts 8 and 42 had only Republican candidates run in the special elections. Louisiana general margins do not include early or provisional votes, because those are not broken down by precinct, only Parish. Lousiana District 92 had a Democratic candidate, but he dropped out of the race, though his name was still on the ballot.

Upcoming Races

Special ElectionElection Date
Georgia State Senate District 32 (Runoff)May 16, 2017
Alabama House of Representatives District 58May 23, 2017
New Hampshire House of Representatives District Carroll 6May 23, 2017
New Hampshire House of Representatives District Hillsborough 44May 23, 2017
New York State Senate District 30May 23, 2017
New York State Assembly District 9May 23, 2017
Montana At-Large (Primary)May 25, 2017
South Carolina State Senate District 3May 30, 2017
South Carolina House of Representatives District 84May 30, 2017
California Congressional District 34 (Runoff)June 6, 2017
Tennessee House of Representatives District 95June 15, 2017
South Carolina Congressional District 5 (Runoff)June 20, 2017
Georgia Congressional District 6 (Runoff)June 20, 2017
South Carolina House of Representatives District 48June 20, 2017
South Carolina House of Representatives District 70June 20, 2017
Oklahoma House of Representatives District 75July 11, 2017
New Hampshire House of Representatives District Merrimack 18July 18, 2017
New Hampshire State Senate District 16July 25, 2017
Missouri State Senate District 28August 8, 2017
Missouri House of Representatives District 50August 8, 2017
U.S. Senator from Alabama (Primary)August 15, 2017
Oklahoma State Senate District 44September 12, 2017
Oklahoma House of Representatives District 46September 12, 2017
U.S. Senator from Alabama (Runoff)September 26, 2017
Montana At-Large (Runoff)November 6, 2017
Michigan House of Representatives District 1November 7, 2017
Washington State Senate District 7November 7, 2017
Washington House of Representatives District 7November 7, 2017
Washington State Senate District 31November 7, 2017
Washington House of Representatives District 31November 7, 2017
Washington State Senate District 37November 7, 2017
Washington State Senate District 45November 7, 2017
Washington State Senate District 48November 7, 2017
Washington House of Representatives District 48November 7, 2017
U.S. Senator from Alabama (General)December 12, 2017

Sources: Ballotopedia, Secretary of State and Registrar of Voters offices