Here at Daily Kos Elections, we’ve watched special elections come and go for years, and we’d gotten accustomed to what used to be a normal occurrence: Democrats flailing in special elections.
Not this year.
Democrats are, on average, overperforming Clinton, overperforming Obama, and overperforming Democrats who ran for the same seats in prior years. And, they’re flipping Republican-held seats—eight of them so far!
Out of all the special elections with typical Democrat vs. Republican dynamics, Democrats have overperformed the 2016 presidential margin by more than 10 points in 25 of them. Republicans have overperformed by more than 10 points in just four—but one of those was actually a Democratic flip! On average, Democrats are doing about 13 points better than Hillary Clinton. The chart above shows the over- or underperformance of each race compared to Clinton’s margin.
Another way to look at it is that Democrats are playing on Republican turf, holding Republicans to within single-digit margins—or even flipping them!—deep within Trump territory. Above, only seats that were held by Republicans are shown. On the left, the 2016 presidential margin: a sea of red except for yesterday’s Florida districts. On average, Trump won these seats by 19 points. All but a handful might have been thought to be safe. On the right, the special election margin is shown; Republicans won these seats by an average of just 6 points, and, again, lost eight of them. Notably, Democrats have been able to keep Republicans to single digits even in the most Trump-friendly districts.
But 2016 was an unusual election, to say the least. What about comparing to 2012?