Democrats Poor Performance in the 2016 Elections

In the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, the Democrats experienced significant losses in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in addition to losing the presidency. While the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote, Donald Trump won the electoral college votes to clinch the presidency. The Republicans not only won the presidency but also won the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, the performance of the Democratic Party has been the subject of scrutiny among political analysts and experts in political matters. The media has remained puzzled with the outcome of the elections because they were so wrong in their predictions. One of the issues that has received considerable scrutiny by the media is why Democrats failed to capture more seats in the U.S. House and why they lost control of the Senate. This paper focuses on examining the reasons Democrats lost control of both the Senate and House of Representatives unlike predicted by some political analysts and the media.

Composition of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives

The United States House of Representatives comprises 435 voting members and 6 non-voting members. In the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, the Republicans captured more seats in the House i.e. 238 seats while the Democrats captured 193 seats. Republicans captured more than the required 218 seats to control the house, which is led by Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican. Based on political analyses and expert opinions, Democrats had a relatively difficult task in capturing majority seats in the House because of the events that took place since 2014 (Scott par, 22). Since the midterms in 2014, Democrats were left in the minority and needed to capture more seats in order to regain control of the House of Representatives. The minority status of the Democrats in the House implied that capturing more seats would be an uphill task that required suitable strategies and strong performance in the elections. Following the midterms in 2014, the Democrats needed to win an additional 30 seats to capture the majority of the House, which was controlled by the Republicans prior to the 2016 elections.


On the other hand, the U.S. Senate comprises of 100 seats in which Republicans won 52 seats while Democrats won 46 seats. A party must have at least 51 seats in order to have control of the Senate, which was achieved by Republicans in the 2016 U.S. elections (Scott par, 6). Prior to the 2016 elections, there were suggestions or predictions that Democrats would win two Republican seats for the Senate i.e. Illinois and Wisconsin, which were seemingly leaning towards them. However, the Democrats failed to capture these seats as Republicans won in Wisconsin and other states like Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, which were regarded as too close to call before the elections.

Reasons for Democrats’ Loss of the Senate and the House

Contrary to predictions by the media and some political scientists and analysts prior to the 2016 American elections, the Democrats path towards controlling the Senate and the House was a difficult task than thought. The difficult task was attributable to the fact that both houses have been recently controlled by Republicans who made it difficult for President Obama and Democrats to pass some legislation. Democrats’ ability to control the Senate and the House was not only dependent on their performance in their strongholds but was also dependent on performance in states that were regarded too close to call before the elections. By the end of the elections, the Democratic Party performed poorly in some of its strongholds and swing states, which contributed to loss of control of both houses due to the following factors.

Geography and Distribution of Voters

One of the major reasons for Democrats loss of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 2016 elections is geography and distribution of voters. Geography and distribution of voters basically relate to how voters are spread across several regions in the United States. In this regard, it refers to how voters are spread across Republican and Democratic strongholds as well as swing states. Congressional and legislative elections in the United States take place under a single-member districts system in which only a single candidate wins the election. Based on this system, there is a systematic advantage of one House representative from every district across different states. The single-member districts system implies that a state is broken up into smaller segments in order to develop a redistricting plan (Wolf par, 2). While the concept behind this system is to ensure that every district has a representative, voters from Republican and Democratic parties are not equally spread throughout a state. Consequently, parties have different distributions of voters across states, which contributes to disparities in the congressional and legislative elections.


Geography played a part in Dems loss of the Senate and the House by being biased against Democrats. Following the outcomes of the 2010 census, Republicans successfully obtained 55% of congressional districts while Democrats achieved the same with only 10 percent. The mapping process enabled Republicans to have a control of the majority of congressional districts that are crucial in congressional and legislative elections. In addition, Republicans have also maintained significant advantages in congressional and legislative redistricting across the country because of the inefficient geographic spread of Democratic voters (Wolf par, 18). This further demonstrates that the geographic distribution of voters across districts in the United States is skewed in favor of Republicans and played a role in the party’s ability to capture more seats in the 2016 elections.


Based on the 2010 census, the geographic distribution of the American electorate provided Republicans with House representative advantages over the Democrats in the lead to the 2016 U.S. elections. Republicans distributed their own voters nearly perfectly among 10 districts through surgical precision. In this process, the Republicans ensured that none of these districts would be vulnerable or heavily leaning to the right, which would essentially make Republican votes irrelevant (Wolf par, 10). Republicans also crowded as many Democrats as possible into just three districts through making in-roads in Durham, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro. Apart from taking part in these districts, Republicans also made in roads in rural northeast that comprises African-American voters who have traditionally elected Democrats. Additionally, Republicans separated Democrats between two seats with their other strongholds when they could not crowd them into liberal cities like Wilmington and Asheville.


Through the surgical precision in geographical distribution of voters, Republicans effectively positioned themselves to win more seats in the House than Democrats. The Republican Party not only captured seats in the rural areas but also did so in the urban settings that were considered Democratic strongholds. Republicans captured more seats in rural areas because the geographical distribution of voters, which is not carried out equally, resulted in rural areas having more seats (which translated to more representatives in the House). On the contrary, Democrats only controlled smaller regions in urban settings that had far less districts and voters in comparison to the rural settings. While Democrats won the popular vote in most of these regions, they did not have a huge number of districts. Therefore, the significantly less number of Democratic districts affected their party’s performance in the congressional elections and made Republicans to have more seats in the House.

Presidential Coattail Effect

Given the controversies that surrounded the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in the 2016 elections, Republicans won more seats in the Senate and the House because of the presidential coattail effect. The American political environment during these elections was largely characterized by increased political polarization through which the electorate analyzed the candidates and issues from a partisan approach. The geographic distribution of voters across the various states in the country provided a premise for partisan polarization, which in turn benefitted Republican candidates more than Democrats benefitted from Hillary Clinton (Wolf par, 21). The partisan polarization significantly lessened the likelihood of split ticket voting and influenced the outcomes of Congressional and legislative elections throughout the country.


According to Yokley, Republicans rode on Trump’s coattails to retain their majority on the Senate and the House while Democrats were unsuccessful (par, 1). These efforts were successful for Republican candidates because the U.S. Senate races in the 2016 elections also served as presidential battleground states unlike in previous elections. Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to tie Republican candidates to their presidential nominee, Donald Trump who had been criticized for several things a few weeks to the elections including his comments about women. These efforts were adopted to help propel Democratic candidates to win their respective Congressional elections because Donald Trump was increasingly a controversial figure. At the same time, Democrats maintained close ties to their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who was also controversial, especially in relation to the email scandal. These measures ended up hurting the prospects of Democrats capturing more seats in the Senate and the House. This was primarily because Democrats only captured seats in states that backed their presidential nominee and failed to yield positive results in Republican states. This in turn illustrates that the increased partisan polarization influenced the electorate decisions on who to vote for in congressional and legislative elections as well as the presidential election.

Voter Demographics

There are five major demographic groups that influenced the outcomes of the Senate races i.e. African-Americans, whites with college degrees, Latinos, whites without college degrees, and Asian/others. In the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, Republicans performed well among white voters without college degrees while Democrats performed well among non-white, young and well-educated voters (Wasserman par, 7). In the 2016 presidential elections, Republicans performed well among white men with no college degree given that 71% voted for Donald Trump while Hillary Clinton garnered 23% from this population (Clement & Guskin, 2016). On the other hand, whites voted for Republicans while non-black populations voted for Democratic candidates. In addition to race factors, the 2016 election was a competition between urban and non-urban America. Election results showed that Democrats dominated huge urban/metropolitan areas while Republicans dominated nearly everywhere else (Brownstein par, 2). The rural voting block was a Republican stronghold that enabled Republican candidates to capture more seats in the Senate and the House. Since Republicans controlled rural America, Democrats lost these areas by 3 to 1 seats (Evich par, 3). The control of the rural voting bloc was crucial for Republicans to capture more seats since these areas have more districts and representatives than the metropolitan areas controlled by Democrats. Political analysts have argued that while America was once defined by regional voting, the 2016 elections proved that its currently divided by the differences between rural and urban voting blocs (Carey par, 6).

Strong Link Between Hillary Clinton and Democrat Congressional Candidates

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced several challenges relating to their credibility and integrity during the presidential campaigns. As a result of these issues, some Republican Congressional candidates distanced themselves from Trump’s campaign. Their decision to distance themselves from Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, was influenced by the disastrous feuds and declining poll numbers several weeks and months to the election day (Martin & Burns par, 1). Some Republican candidates had even concluded that Donald Trump was a threat to the performance and fortunes of the Grand Old Party (GOP). Such decisions were common among Republican candidates in highly competitive races who thought that supporting Trump would jeopardize their own candidatures and chances of success. During this period, Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to tie their Republican competitors to the fate of Donald Trump (Yokley par, 1).


On the other hand, Democratic Congressional candidates strongly linked their campaigns to the campaign of their presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Senate democrats essentially linked their campaigns to that of Hillary Clinton because they seemingly thought that she was guaranteed to win the presidential elections. These candidates linked their campaigns to that of Hillary Clinton despite the integrity issues and scandals that she faced, particularly the email scandal. As a result, Democrat Congressional candidates had no means of escaping Clinton’s vulnerabilities, which dominated Republicans’ campaign messages.


The strategy by Republican candidates to distance themselves from Donald Trump played a major role in their performance in their respective Congressional races. Republicans captured more seats in the Senate and the House because they successfully detached themselves from Donald Trump’s vulnerabilities. On the contrary, Democrats failed to capture more seats in the Senate because of the strong link between the campaigns of Senate Democrats and Hillary Clinton, which implied that they suffered from Clinton’s vulnerabilities. Many Senate Democrats positioned themselves as generic candidates supporting Hillary Clinton and were subsequently treated generically by the electorate (Kane par, 6). The relatively complete dependence on Hillary Clinton by Democrat candidates for the Senate contributed to only three wins for Senate Democrats in 11 major races.

Voter Turnout

The election of Barrack Obama as President of the United States in 2008 and 2012 was largely influenced by the turnout of non-white voters. In the 2016 presidential elections, voter turnout, especially in Republican states played a major role in the election of President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans. One of the factors that influenced the high voter turnout in Republican strongholds was high enthusiasm among Republicans as compared to the levels of enthusiasm in Democratic strongholds in metropolitan areas. The high enthusiasm in Republican strongholds that contributed to high voter turnout was influenced by their discontent with some of the policies adopted by President Obama during his tenure. Donald Trump and Republican Congressional candidates witnessed high voter turnout among rural and small-town working-class white voters, which helped them win the presidency and more seats in both houses (Carey par, 7). On the contrary, Democrats did not get the necessary turnout in metropolitan areas where black, Hispanic, and college-educated voters are concentrated.

While Democrats had majority voters in their strongholds, the poor voter turnout in these strongholds as compared to the turnout in Republican strongholds contributed to the Democrats’ poor performance in the Congressional races. Additionally, Democrats relied on huge minority and urban turnout to capture seats in both houses and clinch the presidency. As a result, they did not customize their messages to white, rural Americans who were seemingly leaning towards the Republican party. This strategy was costly to Democrats because it permitted huge Republican enthusiasm to dominate voter turnout while leaving them with significantly little voters in huge states like Pennsylvania.

High Democratic Expectations

High expectations by Democrats of a high voter turnout was another factor that influenced the Party’s loss of control of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. President Obama’s election in 2008 and 2012 created the impression that there was strong wind of the American electorate backing the Democratic Party. In both victories, voter turnout among young, college educated and non-white populations was significantly high as more individuals from these populations voted. As a result, the Democratic Party was seemingly benefiting from the age-old issue of voter turnout that has dominated U.S. presidential elections (Leonhardt par, 1). Democrats had high expectations of a high voter turnout from these populations as witnessed in the two previous elections. These high expectations were evident in the fact that Democrats’ campaign messages did not seemingly target whites, particularly those without college education who leaned towards the Republican Party.


These high expectations were dashed and contributed to Democrats loss of the Senate and the House because of the low voter turnout, especially in urban areas. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, political scrutiny and diagnosis was largely centered on white working-class swing voters. White voters who voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, especially in the industrial Midwest, abandoned the Democratic Party and voted for Republicans including Donald Trump. While the overall voter turnout in the elections did not change much as compared to the 2012 elections, there was a surge in Republican turnout and slight decline in Democratic turnout contrary to Democrats’ expectations (Leonhardt par, 6). The relatively poor voter turnout in Democrat strongholds flipped the election in favor of Republican candidates and Democrats’ loss of the Senate and the House.

Poor Strategy

Democrats lost control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives because of the Party’s use of a poor political strategy unlike the Republican Party. Some political analysts have argued that Democrats loss can partly be blamed on the operational aspects of their party and choice of presidential candidate (Dinan par, 9). One of these poor strategies is the party’s focus on appealing to identity groups of the growing American voters while ignoring other groups like whites without college education. Secondly, Democrats did not overhaul their party’s agenda following the 2014 midterms that left them in the minority (Kane par, 11). In the 2012 election campaigns, President Obama was successfully re-elected following the party’s focus on a broad agenda that appealed to the American electorate. The broad agenda included pledges to ensure tax fairness given the taxation disparities between the poor and the rich. However, in the 2016 elections, Democratic Party did not have a broad agenda, which eventually flipped the election in favor of Republican Congressional candidates and presidential nominee.


In conclusion, the 2016 presidential election is one of the hotly contested elections in the history of the United States. The Democrats were seemingly in control of both houses and the White House after winning the 2008 and 2012 U.S. elections. However, contrary to predictions by political analysts and the media, the Democrats not only lost the presidential elections but also lost control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The aftermath of these elections have been characterized by increased scrutiny on factors that could have contributed to the Dems loss of control of both houses. Dems failed to capture more seats in both due to several factors including geography and distribution of voters, voter turnout, voter demographics, poor strategy, high Democrat expectations, and strong ties between Hillary Clinton and Democrat candidates.

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