By all accounts, the biggest races on Election Day were a total disaster for Democrats. Donald Trump won. Republicans kept Congress, holding back a Democratic attempt to retake the Senate. And down the ballot, the results weren’t much better for the party: Democrats overall lost governors’ races, although the results were more mixed in state legislatures.
But not all is doom and gloom. While Democrats lost big, liberals won some of the big initiatives that were on statewide ballots. It wasn’t a total sweep — several states, for example, affirmed the death penalty — but there were gains on some issues, including marijuana legalization, minimum wage, and gun control.
The full results paint a much more mixed picture than the top-ballot results suggest: The Democratic Party got clobbered, but some of the major policies Democrats support also won big.
Here’s a quick, simple breakdown of some of the big votes you might have missed in all the mayhem of Election Day.
1) Democrats mostly — but not entirely — lost in the state races
Democrats have long been at a massive disadvantage in governors’ mansions and state legislatures. And it did not get much better on Tuesday night.
Prior to the election, Republicans held 67 of 98 partisan chambers in the nation, while Democrats held 31, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The full results aren’t in, but control switched from Democratic to Republican in the Kentucky House, Iowa Senate, and Minnesota Senate and from Republican to Democratic in the New Mexico House, Nevada Assembly, Nevada Senate, and Washington Senate. There was also a tie in the Connecticut Senate, weakening Democratic control there.
Things look worse for Democrats in the governors’ races. Before Election Day, Republicans controlled 31 governors’ mansions, while Democrats held just 18 and one was independent, according to RealClearPolitics. After the election, Democrats lost three gubernatorial seats — in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont. They may have gained one seat in North Carolina, where Democrat Roy Cooper is ahead of Republican incumbent Pat McCrory, but the results are still too close to call.
Notably, if McCrory loses, it could be seen as a small victory for LGBTQ rights. McCrory faced a very tough election after passing a sweeping anti-LGBTQ law. That law not only repealed existing local LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections but also prevented transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity in schools and government buildings. It led to a massive backlash, sparking protests in the state and boycotts from several businesses around the country. And it might have cost McCrory the election.
Still, since states are where most of American governing is done, losing even more ground in the governors’ races is a big blow to the Democratic Party. Not only have they totally lost the federal government, but they have little control over the lower levels of government too.
2) Three — and maybe four — states legalized marijuana
Voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada opted to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. They join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and the District of Columbia in legalizing pot.
Legalization was also on the ballot in Maine, but the race is too close to call.
The only state to vote against marijuana legalization was Arizona, which advocates always expected would face tough odds at the ballot.
Voters in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota also opted to legalize medical marijuana. And voters in Montana voted to ease their state’s rules on medical marijuana. No state voted against allowing pot for medicinal purposes.
Overall, this amounts to the biggest night ever for marijuana reform. California is an especially huge gain for legalization supporters, since it is the most populous in the US and will likely foster the largest legal marijuana industry in the world.
There is one point of uncertainty: President-elect Donald Trump. Trump has said that legalization should be left to the states. But his administration, especially one in which an anti-legalization figure like Trump ally and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds sway, could try to clamp down on states legalizing, since marijuana remains technically illegal at the federal level. Or the Trump administration could continue the hands-off approach of the Obama administration, as Trump suggested he will do. We just don’t know what will happen.
3) Four states approved a higher minimum wage
At the same time, South Dakota voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have reduced the minimum wage for those under the age of 18.
In a night that was pretty dour for liberals and Democrats, these are significant wins. The effort to raise the minimum wage has long had decent bipartisan support among voters, but it’s faced stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers. While the measures didn’t raise the minimum wage to $15, as some liberals would like, they still amount to some significant raises for many Americans.
4) Three states passed new gun control measures
California’s initiative creates background checks for ammo purchases and bans large-capacity ammo magazines. Nevada’s measure mandates background checks for all gun purchases (closing a loophole in current law), with exceptions for someone transferring a gun to a family member or temporary exchanges of guns for sports shooting and hunting. And Washington state’s new law will let police and family or household members seek “extreme risk protection orders” from judges that temporarily ban someone at risk of harming himself or others from buying a gun; the order can also be extended if a judge deems it necessary. Again, all of these passed.
Maine’s measure would have expanded background checks to include private sales. It failed.
The research suggests that stricter gun control measures reduce gun deaths, although other variables — socioeconomic issues, alcohol consumption, and urbanization — can contribute to gun crime as well. And of course, stricter gun laws are a major goal for liberals, giving them yet another bright spot in several states’ ballot initiatives.
5) From the death penalty to prisons, criminal justice reform had a mixed night
Criminal justice reform, meanwhile, had a mixed Election Day.
The death penalty clearly had a good night. In California, voters not only rejected a repeal of the death penalty but also backed a measure that will speed it up. In Nebraska, voters overwhelmingly reinstated capital punishment after the state legislature repealed it. And in Oklahoma, voters elected to write the death penalty into the state constitution — essentially to protect it from legal challenges.
Criminal justice reformers had a better night in other areas. Candidates for prosecutor who campaigned on prison reform won in several states, from Florida to Texas. And a Democratic challenger defeated Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who billed himself as “America’s toughest sheriff” and got into trouble repeatedly for racial profiling.
Meanwhile, initiatives to reduce prison sentences passed in California and Oklahoma. And New Mexico passed a constitutional amendment that dictates no one should be jailed because they can’t afford bail — a major reform to make sure people aren’t locked in jail just because they’re poor.
All of this adds up to some big wins for criminal justice reformers, with a sour note on the death penalty.
6) The carbon tax failed in Washington state
In a night that looked totally dreadful for the prospects of combating global warming, one potential bright spot could have come in Washington state — which considered an initiative to pass the first statewide carbon tax.
But voters in Washington overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.
As David Roberts wrote for Vox, the measure actually had some big opposition from the left, which didn’t like that the measure was revenue-neutral instead of spending gained revenue on clean energy investment. And that appeared to doom the idea.
Still, liberal policy ideas seemed to have a bigger night than the federal election results suggest. And this list doesn’t even begin to cover local ballot initiatives, like soda taxes, or other, more obscure measures, like health care regulations in California. For more on all of those, and to see what your state or city did, check out the New York Times’s great election tracker.