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In case you haven’t noticed by the sudden lack of political ads on every local news station and YouTube video, the midterm elections are finally over.
A few races are still too close to call, but the nationwide picture has become clear. The Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives as expected, but they will not take control of the Senate as many Democrats had feared.
Republicans had some success in gubernatorial elections, especially in Florida, where incumbent Ron DeSantis defeated his opponent by a wider margin than Democrat Kathy Hochul of New York and Democrat Gavin Newsom of California won their reelection campaigns. Florida is no longer the purple state it was ten years ago.
The GOP also did well in Nebraska, where — in addition to winning all federal and statewide positions — the party’s gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen beat his Democrat opponent Carol Blood by a margin of nearly 24%. In 2018, Republican incumbent Pete Ricketts won his reelection campaign by a margin of 18%.
However, the Democrats were the bigger winners of election day, outperforming expectations and leaving many Republicans wondering what happened to the supposed “red wave” — and in some cases, “red tsunami” — predicted by many right-wing media figures.
Considering President Biden’s low approval rating and the historical precedent of midterm elections, it was reasonable to assume that Democrats would hemorrhage seats in both houses of Congress.
Going into the 2010 midterms, President Obama had a slightly higher approval rating than Biden, and Democrats lost 63 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate. In 2022, it appears that the Democrats will only lose seven seats at most in the House with a possibility of gaining a seat in the Senate.
To quote Nancy Pelosi, the red wave became a “little, tiny trickle, if that at all.”
The power of 27%
Pre-election predictions are often incorrect — the classic example being the 2016 presidential election — and in many cases, these polling inaccuracies reflect a certain demographic of voters whose turnout is underestimated.
In 2022, it seems that younger voters were vastly underrepresented in much of the analysis of the midterms leading up to election day. This may be due to our generation’s apprehension toward answering phone calls — especially those from unknown numbers — but the more likely explanation is an underestimation of Gen Z voter turnout.
Early estimates show around 27% of voters under 30 cast a ballot in the 2022 midterms. This percentage may not seem particularly high, but it represents the second highest midterm turnout over the last 30 years.
In 2014, fewer than 20% of Americans under 30 and only 13% of college students aged 18-24 voted in the midterm elections.
In most places, 2022 midterm turnout was slightly lower than in 2018, but both years were uncommonly high compared to the rest of the last 30 years.
The 2018 midterms were the first federal election to occur after Trump’s surprising win in 2016, and his polarizing character likely motivated voters on both sides in 2018. With Trump no longer in the White House, it would be reasonable to assume more typical midterm turnout.
Of course, the polls failed to consider the impact of my article from three weeks ago encouraging people to vote, but I will grant that other factors may have been at play, including a certain Supreme Court decision from June.
Roe, Roe, Roe your vote
Throughout most of the last two decades, the number of Americans who considered themselves pro-choice or pro-life remained relatively even. With some exceptions, Republicans and Democrats each had a clear side on the issue, and it seemed even enough that neither party paid a political price for an unpopular stand.
However, the overturning of Roe v. Wade coincided with a spike in the number of Americans who consider themselves pro-choice. I hesitate to conflate correlation with causation, but I do not find it a difficult assumption to make.
This shift in public polling soon became evident at the ballot box. Kansas’ proposed state constitutional amendment to remove the right to an abortion was soundly defeated by an 18% margin in the August 2022 primary, despite having a four percent lead in the polls heading up to election day.
Several other constitutional amendments were on the ballot in states across the country in November, and in each state the side which would enable more abortion access won.
While these amendments may have motivated more liberals to vote in those states, candidates with the ability to enshrine the right to an abortion into federal law were on the ballot nearly everywhere. Abortion rights — which once seemed to be an evenly split issue — have suddenly become the key to election victory for Democrats.
Polling shows that Gen Z is the most pro-choice generation, and the increase in turnout among young people certainly favors one party over the other.
On the other hand, an anti-abortion stance is now a liability for Republican candidates.
This is not to say that candidates should compromise on their own moral values to pander to a larger voting pool, but it is a development worth noting in the political arena.
It remains to be seen if the pro-choice tilt will continue beyond 2022 or if this year’s polling is merely an outlier due to the recency of the Dobbs decision.
In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement received record support, but its favorability declined significantly the following year.
One thing is for sure — Gen Z will continue to make up a larger part of the electorate as time goes on, but that does not necessarily mean that Democrats have a secure path for future election victories, as generational beliefs consist of more than a right or left-wing ideology.
Additionally, liberals are more likely to become conservative as they age than conservatives are of becoming liberal, though the phenomenon is not as widespread as some Republican strategists may hope.
I hesitate to make any predictions on the long-term impact of young voters and abortion rights, but it does seem as though they turned the red wave into a red trickle in 2022.
If you ignore the recent announcements made by a certain Florida retiree and Kim Kardashian’s ex, it’s now time to sit back and enjoy a few months of election off-season before the horse race comes into full swing once again.
Why the ‘red wave’ never happened in Pennsylvania
Looking back on Election Day, a heavily anticipated “red wave” never materialized and the Democratic party scored major wins. However, there is still debate as to why Election Day results favored the Democrats.
An election dissection is currently happening in Harrisburg, and even the chair of Pennsylvania Democrats tipped his hat to moderate Republicans.
“There were many Republicans that did the right thing and rejected extremism and voted for Democrats, not necessarily because they agreed with us on everything,” said Senator Sharif Street (D), Chairman of Pennsylvania Democrats.
Senator Street said more fair maps and an extreme Republican gubernatorial candidate, Street’s Senate colleague Doug Mastriano, helped Democrats on Election Day.
“Do you know how hard it is to get thrown out of your own caucus in Harrisburg? It’s hard. It doesn’t happen a lot. He [Mastriano] got thrown out of the Republican caucus as a Republican Senator. That’s pretty extreme,” Street added.
Lowman Henry of the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference said shaky GOP Primaries for governor and senate got nasty and personal, which helped Democrats.
“Our candidates came out of the primary with tens of millions of dollars in negative having been heaped upon them by our own side,” said Henry.
In Henry’s opinion, the GOP’s game plan should include kitchen table concerns, not personal issues.
“If you have responsible conservatives, cut in the mold of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, talking about issues that people care about, that’s when we win. When we get off on side issues, that’s when we lose,” Henry added.
As for the Democratic party, John Fetterman broke the mold in the senate race. Street admitted he preferred Conor Lamb, a more moderate candidate, thinking he had a better chance at winning the seat.
“Something’s going on with the Fetterman formula that the rest of us who are more traditional politicians like me. We should probably spend some time looking at what he’s doing right instead of assuming he’s doing something wrong,” said Street.
Mark Levin: Here’s why the ‘red wave’ was never really going to happen
Republicans will be better positioned for a ‘red wave’ in 2024, Levin told viewers
“Life, Liberty & Levin” host Mark Levin addressed the Republicans’ underwhelming performance in last week’s midterm elections in his opening monologue Sunday, telling viewers that the expected GOP gains were “mathematically impossible” and never indicated a “red wave,” despite polling and predictions.
“I noticed that many of the same people who were wrong about a red wave are now telling us what to think about a non-red wave. The experts, the consultants, the ruling class, the media, the politicians. We need to think for ourselves, enough of the static,” the host said over the weekend. “I said before the election, and I said repeatedly here and on radio: Forget about the red wave. Forget about a red tsunami. Forget about Armageddon and vote.”
In the Senate, Republicans had to defend 20 of the 34 seats up for re-election. To win the majority, Republicans would have had to “tap into” the 14 Democrat incumbent seats, the host explained.
“Life, Liberty & Levin” host Mark Levin (screenshot)
“That was a tall hill to climb. And this is one of the reasons I wasn’t on this red-wave bandwagon so fast,” he said. “I needed to think about it. 2024. This is the key. The next election cycle, 33 seats are up. Now, listen to this. Two-thirds of them are Democrat seats. So the Democrats have to defend 23 Senate seats. The Republicans have to defend only ten.”
“So,” he continued, “the math in 2022 never really led to a red wave possibility and the math in 2024, it does lead to a red wave possibility. Does that mean there will be one? Of course not. But I’m just explaining the math, the simple math. We had about 60% of the seats up. They have almost 70% of the seats up in the next round. So what does that mean? Democrats needed to have some serious gains in the Senate last week to stave off a disaster in 2024. They failed miserably.”
Levin said the suggestion that the GOP would flip six Senate seats “was never going to happen.
“It was a mathematical impossibility,” he argued.
While the GOP “fell short” in the House, “it’s very likely the Republicans will, in fact, take the House, [though] by a much smaller number,” Levin said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters following a Republican caucus at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)
MARK LEVIN SUGGESTS THAT FOR DEMOCRATS, THE ELECTION IS ABOUT ‘TEARING THIS COUNTRY APART’
“They’ll appoint the speaker. They’ll control the committees. Look, in the lead up to the election, pollsters, consultants, Republican operatives and D.C. commentators were talking about a red wave as if it had already occurred. What they based it on was flawed and inaccurate,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2024, Levin said Republicans have a much higher chance of pulling off a true “red wave” than than they did in last week’s midterms.
“In 2024, [Democrats are] in a horrendous situation when two-thirds of the Senate seats that are up are Democrat seats, and they’re [now] celebrating that they only lost the House by a relative few votes, but they lost the House. And the GOP can now block these radical kook programs that Biden’s pushing. They can conduct investigations. They can do what they need to do, and they damn well better. But is this good enough? No, it’s not good enough,” he went on.
“If the Republicans allow the same D.C. establishment, many of whom you see on TV all the time, telling you how smart they are and they know everything, if they allow them to control the agenda and the money, the future is bleak,” Levin said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, alongside Republican House leadership, holds a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 9, 2022.
“The message out of this is, listen to the Washington experts, the Washington establishment, the… Washington politicians and the Republican Party will get smeared. I want you to think for yourself,” he told viewers. “Don’t let these people think for you.”
“If people govern like conservatives, the Senate will be mathematically positioned for Republicans to have big gains” in 2024, Levin concluded.
Why the red wave never crested in the US midterms
The 2022 midterm election was supposed to be a red wave. Instead, it turned out to be a night of razor-thin victories for Republicans, disappointment for many Donald Trump-backed candidates and a sigh of relief from Democrats. It was nothing approaching the wave some polling suggested. And it raises fundamental questions about the direction of the GOP in an era of party factionalism.
There are two fundamentals that consistently indicate the outcomes of most midterms: the approval rating of the president and the right track/wrong track question on the direction of the United States. Both indicators strongly showed a Republican wave was imminent, leading the overwhelming majority of prognosticators, myself included, to conclude that a major House sweep was incoming. The Senate map was more questionable, with Republicans having to defend the seats of several retiring members and a swathe of politically inexperienced outsider candidates winning nominations. But still, those fundamentals — paired with strong gubernatorial performances — looked likely to pull the new runners across the finish line.
It became clear early on that a tsunami was out of the question. Three races in Virginia — in the 2nd, 7th, and 10th districts — turned out to be accurate indicators of the overall results. If the GOP won the 2nd, it would indicate they could take the House; the 7th, and it would be a wave; the 10th, and it would be time to nail the windows shut. The 2nd came through, but that was it, despite the best efforts of House Leader Kevin McCarthy and the popular Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Americans long for calm and normalcy more than they want to burn things down
What followed was more disappointment. The New Hampshire Senate race, which had been closing for weeks and was predicted as a Republican pickup by multiple prognosticators and RealClearPolitics polling averages, turned out to be an easy win for Democrats. And then it became apparent that Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania were all too close to call. Ohio would ultimately prove fine for J.D. Vance, but Georgia is effectively tied — and the big shock came with John Fetterman’s win in the Keystone State. After all that, the most expensive Senate race in the history of America ended up electing someone who has difficulty even communicating.
It’s one thing for a political newbie to disappoint against a talented incumbent in a statewide race — think Tudor Dixon failing in her run against incumbent Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer — but it’s another to fail in open contests where both candidates receive massive endorsements, money and national attention. In Pennsylvania, it turns out that when running for office, it helps to live in the state.
The night was not all bad for Republicans. They picked up several seats on the strength of Ron DeSantis’s performance in Florida and Lee Zeldin’s overperformance as a candidate in New York, and their path to a majority at this writing seems clear. But it may just be a matter of flipping numbers: they could end up with the same single-digit bare majority for McCarthy that Nancy Pelosi managed for the past Congress. Perhaps she’ll stick around instead of retiring after all.
Republicans have effectively earned the ability to block things. But that’s all. So the overall takeaway for their congressional strategy ought to be to behave like they’re still in the minority — they might as well be. Blocking things is about all they will be good for. And for the Senate, the possibility of a leadership fight seems far away now despite internal tensions and animosity between Mitch McConnell on one side and Donald Trump and Rick Scott on the other.
It seems highly likely that Democrats will attempt to spin this election as having changed away from the fundamentals because of abortion. But pro-life governors and Senate candidates won all over the place. What’s more believable is that the abortion issue increased turnout among young people, particularly young women, in a way that blunted the fundamentals. In other words, abortion isn’t enough to win Democrats many seats, but it does allow them to better defend what they have. Abortion couldn’t save Stacey Abrams, Tim Ryan, Beto O’Rourke or Val Demings. But it may have helped them hold on to more House seats than expected. And that’s a problem for pro-lifers to solve.
I was asked at the end of our Fox News coverage, past the 2 a.m. mark in New York, about the final lesson to take away from the night. My answer was to consider two concepts: populism and normalcy. The nation clearly wants a more populist conservative agenda, that’s not wrong — Ron DeSantis and a number of under candidates who won easily exemplify this. But they also want something else: a sense of seriousness and normalcy, not chaos. The Trumpian candidates for the Senate were often more chaotic than serious and sensible. That’s a simplistic level of analysis, but also true. It also raises questions about that incoming announcement on 15 November. Will it still go off as planned?
Americans long for calm and normalcy more than they want to burn things down. They want to trust things will work again — and can be made to work. Republicans did a bad job of convincing them they could do this. If they had done that job better, they would have won by more.
I am fond of an old G.K. Chesterton quote: ‘It is the mark of our whole modern history that the masses are kept quiet with a fight. They are kept quiet by the fight because it is a sham-fight; thus most of us know by this time that the Party System has been popular only in the sense that a football match is popular.’ I am of the opinion that for most of our American history, this observation is true. Except: not any more.
What Happened to the Red Wave?
Before Election Day, the narrative for Democrats was dire – big losses were predicted in the midterms and Republicans were poised for a historic red wave.
Then the results started coming in and the red wave never materialized. Several key races that will determine control of the U.S. House and Senate remain too close to call.
Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of Rutgers’ Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, talks about why election night forecasts were wrong and the red wave was barely a trickle.
What are some of the reasons why you think the red wave didn’t materialize? What can we learn from the results?
Call it a ripple – a splash – whatever you call it, election night was certainly not the red wave that was expected. This stemmed from a highly polarized electorate, unprecedented events like January 6th, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision this past summer effectively overturning Roe v. Wade, and a slew of extremist candidates on the right who did not seem to appeal to voters in a number of races.
President Biden, with underwater approval ratings, is looking like he will pull off a better first term midterm election than either Trump or Obama, who both saw high double-digit losses for their respective parties despite better conditions in 2010 and 2018. These results imply perhaps a not so favorable night for Trump as a Kingmaker of candidates – especially days away from a possible 2024 run announcement – and instead potential good news for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, if he decides to launch a presidential run for 2024. The results also indicate, even in the midst of rising inflation and concerns over the economy, the issue of abortion is nevertheless a powerful motivator – especially for key voting blocs like women. At the end of the day, after the most expensive midterm to date, what happened last night tells us a lot about who turns out and for what reasons and what money can do to influence that.
Did the polls predict a red wave or was that the pundits interpreting the polls?
Polling never predicted a red wave – certainly not in the Senate and with a wide range of uncertainty focused mostly on more moderate GOP gains in the House. Last night was a win for traditional pollsters as opposed to more partisan pollsters with less transparent and/or questionable methodologies, whose results received a lot of hype before election day.
The biggest failure here once again stems from not understanding what polls can and can’t – and should and shouldn’t – do. This has been the failure in every recent election cycle. Polling provides a systematic, quantifiable way to assess the public. Media narratives add color add depth through anecdotal evidence and reporting, but the truest way of capturing public opinion that is representative of the population is through polling.
Vibes or moods have too often influenced media narratives in recent elections, from what was thought to be a surefire win for Clinton, despite tight polling, and a landslide for Biden despite the margin of error inherent in his lead.
Let’s recognize that polls are not meant to be prediction tools and that they should not be influenced by outside agendas or story lenses. In fact, they should be the complete opposite: an objective, science-based, systematic accounting that estimates what people are thinking and feeling in that moment, explaining the how and why behind their vote bounded by some type of margin of error given the inability to talk to everyone in a population. Let’s take the narrative thumb off the scale that influences how we interpret and view polls both pre and post election.
Several key races are still too close to call. Is there still a chance the GOP will make significant gains?
As of now, it looks like the House will likely go for the GOP. While it is not out of the realm of possibility for Democrats to keep it, it looks like Republicans have a pretty good shot for a GOP majority given the races that are left. The Senate is a different story, with some predicting it will remain a 50/50 split – especially after a Democratic win in the Senate in Pennsylvania – depending on how key races in Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada go. Whatever happens, GOP gains will not be significant, the GOP may not be able to capture both chambers, and some sort of divided government will undoubtedly impact the second half of Biden’s first term.
Divided government, which has been more and more common in recent decades, means bipartisanship and compromise are key to getting anything done and can potentially lead to meaningful, broad legislation, but of course, in today’s polarized climate, it can also lead to gridlock and the accomplishment of nothing. This could compromise serious issues Congress will face in the near future, like the debt ceiling. A split Congress would at least allow the Biden administration to get nominations passed in the Senate, but a GOP House would still wield plenty of power in areas like hearings and even impeachment proceedings.
There were other key races around the country last night including governor’s races and election deniers on the ballot seeking office to run to oversee future elections. What are some other key takeaways from Tuesday?
This was quite literally an election about the future of our democracy and how it is conducted. We saw some key Republican losses for election deniers in positions of power to impact state election regulations – as well as a win for Republican Raffensperger in Georgia, who famously refused Trump’s demands over the Georgia results in 2020. Crucial Secretary of State elections in Arizona and Nevada are still too close to call. Wins in states like Wisconsin for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who faces a Republican-dominated state government, can also be viewed as providing a firewall against Republicans when it comes to election denying and legislation on issues like abortion.
The red wave that wasn’t: 5 takeaways from a disappointing night for the GOP
Donald Trump’s favored candidates prove a drag to Republicans, running well behind others in their party.
There was no red wave. Republicans, though still poised to take the House, under-performed, while Democrats breathed a huge sigh of relief.
It was a good night for Joe Biden, and a miserable one for Donald Trump.
Here are five takeaways from a midterm election the public polls, unlike two years ago, largely got right:
With control of the Senate, Democrats will be able to unilaterally confirm Biden’s judges and executive branch nominees.
Trump is damaged goods
Trump is still the dominant figure in the Republican Party, and he’ll be the favorite to win the GOP nomination for president if, as expected, he runs again.
But Trump’s place in the party is far weaker after Tuesday. Truth is, if not for the former president’s interventions, the night could have been a lot better for the GOP.
Just look at how the most Trump-y candidates fared in states where more traditionalist Republicans were on the same ballot.
In Georgia, Herschel Walker was locked in a neck-and-neck contest with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Gov. Brian Kemp, whose resistance to overturning the 2020 results infuriated Trump, easily defeated his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams.
In New Hampshire, Republican Don Bolduc lost to Sen. Maggie Hassan in a race that didn’t even look close, while Gov. Chris Sununu, who once referred to Trump as “fucking crazy,” cruised to reelection. Trump’s preferred candidate in Ohio, J.D. Vance, did better, beating Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan by a comfortable margin in that state’s U.S. Senate race. But he came nowhere close to the margin that incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine, a more traditionalist Republican, put up.
In Arizona, it was still early, with only about half of the expected vote in. But Kari Lake was running behind Katie Hobbs. Even if she comes back to win, it will be a closer race than political professionals of both parties had predicted had a more traditionalist Republican, Karrin Taylor Robson, made it through.
“I mean, come on,” said Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Republican strategist based in Phoenix. “This should be a walk in the park for Republicans … If Karrin Taylor Robson was the [gubernatorial] nominee, it would be an ass-kicking this cycle. But we just have such poor candidates who don’t appeal to a broader base.”
Besides, Coughlin said, “This is a non-presidential cycle, which tilts against the White House, tilts against the party in power. That’s not going to be the case in a presidential cycle. [Trump] doesn’t have that wind at his back anymore.”
Biden has a calendar problem
With Tuesday looking a lot better for Democrats than expected, it’s possible we’ll see some rallying around Biden. Presidents who suffered much more punishing midterms went on to win second terms.
So, give Biden his due. But it’s hard to argue that Democrats over-performed on Tuesday because of Biden rather than in spite of him. His approval rating, hovering around 41 percent, is dismal — and has been all year. He’ll turn 80 this month, and earlier this year, a majority of Democrats polled said they’d prefer someone else to be the party’s nominee.
But one thing Biden did have going for him was the calendar, and the reluctance of Democrats to do anything that might hurt him — and, by extension, the party — ahead of the midterms.
That imperative is gone now. And though no prominent Democrat is likely to run a serious campaign against Biden, there will be increasing pressure on him, especially from the left, to step aside.
It’s already happening. On Wednesday, in an effort described first to POLITICO, a left-wing group that worked in 2020 to persuade progressives to support Biden will start airing digital ads in New Hampshire highlighting Biden’s “extremely low approval rating” and depicting him as a weak incumbent.
“We cannot risk losing in 2024,” says one ad, part of RootsAction.org’s “#DontRunJoe” campaign. “We shouldn’t gamble on Joe Biden’s low approval rating.”
Extremism is a Democratic issue, too
All year — and especially in the closing days of the campaign — Democrats cast themselves as a mainstream alternative to the excesses of the GOP. But despite the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the hundreds of election deniers Republicans put on the ballot, voters on Tuesday did not appear to see it that way.
In preliminary exit polls, about equal proportions of voters said Democrats and Republicans were “too extreme.” The exits mirrored a poll released just before the election by the center-left group Third Way found voters viewed Republicans and Democrats as similarly far from the center.
It hurt Republicans that abortion ranked high on voters’ list of concerns, just behind inflation. And some of the most prominent Republican election deniers went down, including Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania. Lake might lose in Arizona, which few political observers expected.
But it’s not as though Democrats were viewed by voters as the reasonable party.
Part of that had to do with crime. All across the map, using grainy, black-and-white images and CCTV footage of crimes in progress, Republicans ran ads yoking Democrats to “defund the police,” bail reform and rising crime rates.
It didn’t work everywhere — and it didn’t work as well as Republicans had anticipated. But the legacy of “defund the police” is still getting in Democrats’ way.
In North Carolina, Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court justice who was savaged by Republican advertising on crime, lost to Rep. Ted Budd in the U.S. Senate race. And in Wisconsin, it was only after the GOP began airing ads depicting Mandela Barnes as extreme on crime that Sen. Ron Johnson overtook him in the polls. Johnson was leading Barnes by a narrow margin late Tuesday.
The Democratic map fails to grow
In a reasonably good night for Democrats overall, the party’s biggest loss may not have been a candidate at all — but geography.
Yes, Democrats defended significant parts of their 2020 battleground map. But it was a different story in two big states that Democrats have reached for years to compete in. Republicans wiped Democrats off the map in Florida, a one-time swing state where DeSantis clobbered his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, and Sen. Marco Rubio did the same to Rep. Val Demings in his reelection bid.
It was the same thing in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott blew out Beto O’Rourke. In his closer-than-expected U.S. Senate run in Texas four years ago, O’Rourke had embodied Democrats’ expectations that, some day soon, demographic shifts in Texas would turn that state blue. Instead, he was running more than 10 percentage points behind Abbott by the time the race was called, while Democrats were verging on being swept in statewide contests in the state.
Given those results, it’s going to be hard for Democrats in Texas and Florida in 2024 to argue that their states will be in play anytime soon.
One Democratic strategist who advises major party donors described the two states late Tuesday as “giant money sucks.”
Given Republican advantages there, he said, “There’s nothing we can do about those places.”
Republicans — and McCarthy — are in for a tough two years
The math is still on the side of Republicans taking the House. And the political problem confronting a party any time it gains power is that it will be expected to govern.
But it’s going to be even more complicated for Republicans than usual next year. For one thing, hard-liners in the GOP conference will now be part of a majority.
Five Takeaways From a Red Wave That Didn’t Reach the Shore
Democrats showed up, Trump-backed candidates underperformed and inflation wasn’t the whole story: Here are last night’s lessons.
Democrats tried to outrun history — and the lead weight of a wounded president who made his final political appearance of the campaign in deep-blue Maryland, in a county he won two years ago by an overwhelming margin.
They had help from a surprising quarter: Republican voters. A base still in thrall to Donald J. Trump chose candidates in the primaries who threw out plenty of red meat, but on Election Day, many failed to translate their frustrations into victory.
So far, the results appear well short of the “red tsunami” of Republican dreams. Republicans may yet win back the House, but hardly in commanding fashion, while the Senate remained too close to call early Wednesday morning.
Across the East Coast, in Virginia’s northern suburbs and mixed areas of Rhode Island and New Hampshire, embattled Democrats managed to hang on. They even knocked off a few Republicans here and there. In many tight races, abortion and Mr. Trump’s looming presence may have been the G.O.P.’s undoing.
“The Democratic Party post-Trump is a much tougher, fighting party,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, attributing to sheer grit the victories eked out by colleagues like Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. “These are battle-hardened veterans who know exactly why they’re in politics.”
Tuesday was by no means an unalloyed victory for either side, however. There were signs of Republican gains in working-class communities of color. And some battleground states, like North Carolina, moved further out of Democrats’ reach. Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, even flipped the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade County on his way to a rout of Representative Charlie Crist.
It will be days before the full results are clear, and possibly weeks. Here are the lessons of the 2022 midterms so far:
The Democratic base showed up.
The biggest question hanging over Democrats all year was just who, exactly, would show up to vote for them. In a typical midterm election, like 2010 and 2014, turnout drops by about 20 percentage points from a presidential year.
But turnout smashed all records in 2018, when voters repudiated Mr. Trump and Democrats retook the House. So far, preliminary research by the Democratic data firm Catalist suggests that this year looks much more like 2018 than it does the sleepy affairs that took place under former President Barack Obama. Many analysts now think the United States may have reached a new plateau of permanently high participation, stoked by each party’s fear of the other side.
That might help explain why polling failed to capture the widespread feeling among Democrats, which grew after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade and the Jan. 6 hearings over the summer, that their core democratic rights were increasingly at risk.
The Aftermath of the 2022 Midterm Elections
A moment of reflection. In the aftermath of the midterms, Democrats and Republicans face key questions about the future of their parties. With the House and Senate now decided, here’s where things stand:
Biden’s tough choice. President Biden, who had the best midterms of any president in 20 years as Democrats maintained a narrow hold on the Senate, feels buoyant after the results. But as he nears his 80th birthday, he confronts a decision on whether to run again.
Is Trump’s grip loosening? Ignoring Republicans’ concerns that he was to blame for the party’s weak midterms showing, Donald J. Trump announced his third bid for the presidency. But some of his staunchest allies are already inching away from him.
G.O.P leaders face dissent. After a poor midterms performance, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell faced threats to their power from an emboldened right flank. Will the divisions in the party’s ranks make the G.O.P.-controlled House an unmanageable mess?
A new era for House Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve in the post and the face of House Democrats for two decades, will not pursue a leadership post in the next Congress, paving the way for fresher faces at the top of the party.
Divided government. What does a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-run Senate mean for the next two years? Most likely a return to the gridlock and brinkmanship that have defined a divided federal government in recent years.
“I think that pundits sometimes project onto the public a crude materialism, where all people care about is pocketbook issues in the narrowest sense,” Mr. Raskin said. “People understand how precarious and precious a thing constitutional democracy is, and they don’t want to lose it.”
Abortion put Democrats in the fight.
Throughout much of 2021 and the first half of 2022, Republicans appeared poised for shellacking-level gains in Congress and beyond. Then came the Supreme Court’s bombshell decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning a 50-year precedent that many Americans had taken for granted.
Suddenly, Democrats had found an issue to rally their base around. Two months later, when voters in conservative Kansas emphatically rejected a ballot measure to ban abortion, many saw a potential game-changer in the making. Democratic governors like Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan positioned themselves as bulwarks of abortion rights, while liberal groups poured hundreds of millions of dollars into ads highlighting the far-right positions many Republicans took to win their primaries.
Some on the left, notably Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have questioned whether Democrats expended too much energy on abortion. The unintended effect, these critics argued, was to reinforce the impression that Democrats were ignoring the most pressing concern on voters’ minds: inflation.
Few Democratic strategists agree. “I do think Dobbs transformed this election,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. “There’s pretty good evidence that it shook things up.”
Trump saddled Republicans with weak candidates.
Often, Democrats got the opponents they desired. And the Republican Party leadership was just as often confounded and frustrated by the choices its own voters made.
G.O.P. leaders aggressively courted centrist governors like Doug Ducey of Arizona, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire to run for Senate — to little avail. Mr. Trump played kingmaker from Mar-a-Lago, demanding that candidates pay fealty to his lies about the 2020 election being stolen. Republican primary voters sided overwhelmingly with Mr. Trump, leading Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, to fret about the “quality” of his party’s nominees.
In some races, Democrats even tried steering Republican voters away from more moderate candidates and lifted Trump-aligned conservatives who denied the legitimacy of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s 2020 win. Once these nominees were cemented, Democrats bombarded voters with messages that portrayed Republicans as too extreme on issues like abortion rights or as opponents of democracy itself.
The Democrats’ scorched-earth approach worked in many cases. Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, ran ads bolstering State Senator Doug Mastriano in the Republican primary, then steamrollered him in the election on Tuesday.
Don Bolduc, a Republican challenger who likewise played up Trump’s stolen-election lies, lost a Senate race in New Hampshire that Republicans in Washington once thought winnable. Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, wryly assessing his victory over Tim Michels, a flame-throwing Republican who allied himself with Mr. Trump, remarked that “boring wins.”
Inflation dominated, as Democrats grasped for a response.
Again and again, voters told pollsters that soaring prices for gasoline, groceries and housing were their No. 1 concern by far. And Democrats grasped for a clear, consistent response to Republican attacks.
The White House first tried denial: Administration officials argued that inflation was a “transitory” phenomenon, a word that would come to haunt many a Democrat months later. Then blame: When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices rocketing upward, Mr. Biden and other Democrats tried to brand inflation as “Putin’s price hike.”
Acceptance proved harder. Some Democrats were more adept than others at feeling voters’ pain; in February, a group of vulnerable senators, for instance, urged Mr. Biden to freeze the federal gas tax. But, on the whole, the public held Democrats responsible for their pinched wallets, regardless of what the party said or did.
Even the Inflation Reduction Act, the product of 18 months of messy talks on Capitol Hill, landed with a whisper. Relatively few Americans were aware of provisions to cap the price of insulin and allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs, even though they were individually popular. As Sean McElwee of the progressive polling group Data for Progress put it, “Voters don’t know a ton about the bill or what was in it.”
The country is as closely divided as ever.
The chief force in American politics remains its deep partisan divide. There were indeed some ticket-splitters on Tuesday, but in general Democrats turned out en masse for Democrats, and Republicans for Republicans. In years past, Mr. Biden’s low approval ratings and inflation stuck at 40-year-highs might have augured a convincing drubbing for his party. Harry Truman lost 55 House seats in his first midterms; Bill Clinton lost 53; Barack Obama lost 63.
That kind of rebuke didn’t happen to Mr. Biden. It is rarely how American politics works anymore. There are fewer true swing voters than ever — and a dwindling number of swingable races.
Most of the country’s 435 House seats were not in contention anyway, leaving the two sides to scrap over a battlefield shrunken by gerrymandering and sorted into polarized geographic enclaves. Fewer than a third of this year’s Senate races were ever competitive. Representative Tim Ryan could not escape Ohio’s rightward march despite a campaign Democrats hailed as “phenomenal”; nor could moderate Republicans like Joe O’Dea and Tiffany Smiley pull off upsets in Colorado and Washington State.
Voters re-elected Republican governors in Florida, Georgia and Texas. They returned Democrats to power in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And for all the record-shattering sums spent on campaigns and TV ads in the 2022 midterms — as much as $16.7 billion, by one estimate — the country is likely waking up on Nov. 9 much as it did on Nov. 8: split roughly in two.
“Nothing really worked this cycle,” said Ms. Greenberg, the Democratic pollster. “There are much larger issues at stake.”
Don’t blame polls for the ‘red wave’ that never happened. Blame pundits.
This year, the problem wasn’t the surveys — it was that many people failed to understand what those polls were saying.
What if they held an election and the polls didn’t blow their predictions? That just happened in the 2022 midterms.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s hopes of becoming speaker are in jeopardy after a “red wave” predicted by some pundits and partisan firms — and not independent pollsters — went pfft. With results still being counted, the House of Representatives looks likely to turn Republican by only a narrow margin, and control of the Senate may once again hang on a runoff election in Georgia.
Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Independent pollsters were largely on target in key races in the last few weeks, offering some vindication for an industry vilified after failing to accurately predict the outcome of several recent election cycles — perhaps most notably, Donald Trump’s victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016. There were exceptions, such as in Florida, where polls underestimated Republicans’ winning margins. But this year, the biggerproblem wasn’t the surveys: it was that many pundits and political experts failed to understand what those polls were saying.
“Polling was very much spot-on,” said Mike Noble, chief of research and managing partner of OH Predictive Insights. Independent polls from his group and others projected slim margins inSenate races in states like Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. “The whole ‘red wave’ was manufactured by partisan polls and Super PACs. The independent polls were calling a lot of those races as dead even. And they were.”
Red wave wrong
Many political observers were stressing a red wave was coming in the week ahead of the election, a time when polls traditionally tighten across the board.
“The whole reason we have polls is to have data instead of anecdotes,” said Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “We’re all so traumatized by past problems with polls that I think people were maybe too distrustful of them and put too much stock in anecdotes, which we do need to explain what happened in elections. But you really have to put the data first.”
The key breakwater against a red wave was that unlike past polling in recent elections, undercounts of expected Republican voters did not befuddle the independent polls. “Polling organizations took to heart the need to address the problems we saw in 2020, and many of them made changes to try to better represent Republicans and Trump supporters,” said Scott Keeter, senior survey adviser at the Pew Research Center. Votes are still being counted, “but the initial impression is encouraging.”
Reputable polling firms deliver their findings with transparency about how they weigh voters and with margin-of-error windows that are too often ignored in news coverage of polls, Koning added. “Polls are not meant to be predictive but to give a snapshot of where things stand when they were taken. We really should take more care in talking about them.”
Noble sees the growth in newer, more partisan polling firms attached to “super PAC” political action committees that need optimistic poll results to hit up donors for more cash as undercutting more reliable polls. Those polls, which can unrealistically weight their results to favor one party in his view, end up polluting the average of poll results reported by political websites like FiveThirtyEight or RealClearPolitics.
He pointed to Utah, a very conservative state where a Democratic PAC’s poll earlier suggested the Senate race between Republican incumbent Mike Lee and Independent candidate Evan McMullin was a toss-up. OH Predictive Insights ended up running a survey only a week before voting just to be sure — and it found Lee trouncing his independent opponent. Which is what happened.
“You really have to look at reputation of the polling firm and ask who they are working for in assessing a poll,” said Noble. (He compared complaints about polls to complaints about “the media,” which lump partisan news outlets in with serious ones.)
Columbia University statistician Andrew Gelman, who regularly analyzes polls and polling questions for problems, said 2022 looks more like a typical year rather than an unusual one, where voters tend to rebalance the government in midterms, penalizing the president’s party. With the end of a national right to abortion remindingvoters that the Supreme Court is in the hands of Republicans, shifting Congress halfway toward Republicans looks more like old-fashioned midterm voting. (Kaiser Family Foundation surveys suggest about two-thirds of Democratic voters mentioned that abortion ruling as factoring into their turnout and vote.)
“It will take some time to figure out which pollsters did particularly well, but preelection polling averages that included a lot of partisan pollsters tended to be less accurate than those without the partisan polls,” said Keeter. Averaging polls can help tamp down idiosyncrasies across them, he said, a practice seen at FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times. “But this election shows that a good polling consumer needs to pay attention to what polls are included.”
That can be hard because some states see polling droughts ahead of elections, acknowledged Koning. Where traditional polls are not available, people should be very cautious about those states. “There is always room for improvement in polling, but it is really too difficult for people to sift through who is credible and who is not.”
dailynebraskan.com, “OPINION: Why the ‘red wave’ never materialized in the 2022 midterms.” By Brian Beach; abc27.com, “Why the ‘red wave’ never happened in Pennsylvania.” BY Dennis Owens and Madison Montag; foxnews.com, “Mark Levin: Here’s why the ‘red wave’ was never really going to happen: Republicans will be better positioned for a ‘red wave’ in 2024, Levin told viewers.” By Yael Halon; spectator.co.uk, ” Why the red wave never crested in the US midterms.” By Ben Domenech; rutgers.edu, “What Happened to the Red Wave?” By Andrea Alexander; politico.com, “The red wave that wasn’t: 5 takeaways from a disappointing night for the GOP: Donald Trump’s favored candidates prove a drag to Republicans, running well behind others in their party.” By David Siders; nytimes.com, “Five Takeaways From a Red Wave That Didn’t Reach the Shore: Democrats showed up, Trump-backed candidates underperformed and inflation wasn’t the whole story: Here are last night’s lessons.” By Blake Hounshell; gridnews.com, “Don’t blame polls for the ‘red wave’ that never happened. Blame pundits. This year, the problem wasn’t the surveys — it was that many people failed to understand what those polls were saying.” BY Dan Vergano;
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