|1. Democratic gains in the U.S. Senate.
Six months ago I wouldn't have believed Democrats could even hold their majority, let alone expand it.
Democratic candidates won most of the competitive races by larger-than expected margins. Only Heidi Heitkamp barely squeaked by in North Dakota (a state Mitt Romney won by 59 percent to 39 percent).
2. Huge youth voter turnout.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) - the preeminent youth research organization at Tufts University - this morning released an exclusive turnout estimate showing that 22-23 million young Americans (ages 18-29), or at least 49%, voted in Tuesday's presidential election, according to national exit polls, demographic data, and current counts of votes cast.
In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, if Romney had won half the youth vote, or if young people had stayed home all together, he would have won those key battleground states. A switch of those 80 electoral votes would have also changed the presidency, electing Romney as president. (More on that analysis here.) Young people represented 19% of the voters in yesterday's election, with President Obama winning the majority of those votes over Governor Romney by 60% to 37%, according to the early released NEP.
"Confounding almost all predictions, the youth vote held up in 2012 and yet again was the deciding factor in determining which candidate was elected President of the United States," said CIRCLE director Peter Levine. "Young people are energized and committed voters. Youth turnout of around 50% is the 'new normal' for presidential elections. Considering that there are 46 million people between 18 and 29, this level of turnout makes them an essential political bloc. Right now, they form a key part of the Democrats' national coalition. Republicans must find a way to compete for their votes."
According to CIRCLE's exclusive estimate, youth voter turnout was at least 49.3%, based on data from about 97% of precincts that have fully reported their votes as of Wednesday morning. Youth turnout may reach 51% when the remaining 3% of precincts report. The minimum CIRCLE estimated at the same point in time in 2008 was 48.3%, but our 2008 estimate rose to 52% as more precincts reported. That means that 2004, 2008, and 2012 have been three strong elections in a row for youth, with turnout in the vicinity of 50% each time, compared to just 37% in 1996 and 41% in 2000.
3. President Barack Obama winning the Asian vote by 50 points.
I expected to see record margins for Obama among Latino voters, but didn't see this coming.
Exit polls show that 73% of Asian Americans backed Obama, an 11-point increase since 2008. Asian Americans came out in such force for Obama that they topped Latinos as his second-most supportive ethnic group, behind African Americans. [...]
While Asians accounted for just 3% of the electorate - up from 2% in 2008 - their overwhelming support made them a key component of the Obama coalition, especially in swing states like Virginia, Florida and Colorado.
4. Democratic gains in state legislatures.
I expected Obama to be re-elected, but with minimal coat-tails. However, the state legislative elections went very well for Democrats as a whole.
Just weeks before the election, national Republicans expressed confidence in winning multiple chambers and even expressed certainty that some heavily-contested chambers would remain under Republican control. Instead, Democrats won new majorities in the Colorado House, Maine House, Maine Senate, Minnesota House, Minnesota Senate, New Hampshire House, New York Senate and Oregon House; gained super-majorities in the California Assembly, California Senate, Illinois House and Illinois Senate; and gained seats in 40 chambers that were up for election on Tuesday.
Here's a longer list of the key Democratic takeovers and defends. Iowa Republicans had sounded very confident about winning the state Senate, but Democrats held on to 26 seats and were just a few dozen votes from electing John Beard to Senate district 28 in the northeast corner of the state.
5. The margin for retaining Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins.
Based on opinion polls, I thought that if Wiggins were retained, he would barely make it through. Instead, Iowans voted yes by a 9-point margin, and yes votes were the majority in 36 counties.