Midterm elections are never great for the party in power in the White House, and 2022 should not be an exception, either in the South or nationwide, for Democrats. Election analysts expect that Democrats could lose over 40 state House and a few Senate seats in the South in 2022 unless dynamics from this year’s elections shift substantially over the next few months. Republicans already have majorities in 25 of 26 southern legislative chambers; the Senate in Virginia, which does not hold elections in 2022, is the only Democratic holdout. Democrats are hoping to hold on to the majority they have in the House, needed to protect what seats they do have, but they are also hoping to pick up some others, which could help make up for inevitable losses that would be expected to occur during the midterms when their party would hold complete control in Washington (the White House, the Senate, and the House).
If Democrats get 51% of the national Senate vote this year, they are probably going to lose one seat and Senate control. Republicans are historically more likely to vote than Democrats during the midterm elections and especially likely to do so when their party is out of power in Washington. At the same time, Republican voters are more likely than Democratic voters to say that it’s actually important for whichever party gains control of Congress in a coming midterm election. Indeed, polls have found that until recently, Republicans were much more excited about midterm elections than Democrats. By comparison, roughly half of voters under the age of 30 said that if the next midterm elections were held today, they would vote for a Democratic candidate, compared with 29% who said they would support the Republican nominee. By comparison, an overwhelming share of Black voters (72%) say they would favor the Democratic candidate, while 7% favor the Republican nominee.
The poll found equal shares of registered voters, saying if the next midterm elections were held today, they would favor either the Republican or Democratic candidates (43% each) in their districts. Today, unlike in 2018, registered Republican voters (70%) are much more likely than Democratic voters (60%) to say it is very important for either party to gain control of Congress this year. Democrat’s majorities in both houses of Congress are shrinking, historical precedents for a losing presidents party are stronger, and the surveys that have come out so far–like a general Congressional survey asking voters what party they would back if elected–suggest voters are somewhat favored by Republican control of Congress.
The House map is not nearly as partisan for Republicans as Democrats had feared. Instead, Democrats also need to pick up a few seats that Republican candidates are currently favoring, and this requires a more favorable domestic political environment in November for Democrats than is projected by model projections of House races at this point. For the record, our models actually make those calculations, and the Deluxe version estimates there is an 83% chance Republicans will ultimately hold the governorship after this November’s midterm elections, compared to just a 7% chance for Democrats.
The only alternative is that Democrats must appeal across party lines to voters’ concerns about democracy and majoritarian government, even small-state conservatives, and pick up seats not just in traditionally Democratic areas but in districts and states that typically vote Republican. To win in typically hostile turf, Democrats would have to find new allies among all voters who want to keep American democracy – independents, suburban voters, moderate Republicans, and anti-Trump voters, as well as ordinary, hardworking Americans — voters who normally vote Republican but are alarmed by the actions of former President Trump, his extreme MAGA supporters, and the Senates GOP leader, Mitch McConnell.
After picking up 948 state House and Senate seats — and many of those were Southern Democrats, as CharlesChaz Nuttycombe points out — Republicans are coming around to maxing out the number of seats they can gain. That is in addition to the scores of electoral challengers that have won primaries in states around the country, many of them relatively younger-for-politics Republicans, who, win or lose, will retain their footholds in the party for years. At least a few new registered Republicans are Democrats who switched parties to vote against the Trump-backed candidates in GOP primaries.
Because every state gets two senators, and most of the smaller 21 states vote for Republicans, the effective count is 25 Republicans and 19 Democrats. That goes to show just how few of those “crossover districts”–those that vote a certain way for president but support a U.S. House member from another party–remain open for Republicans to try and flip. A major target for Republicans will surely be Democratic-held seats Trump won in 2020.
Democrats won almost 18 million more votes in the Senate than Republicans in 2018, yet Republicans picked up two seats. In 2020, however, President Trump won West Virginia with 68.6 percent of the vote, and highly gerrymandered legislative districts gave Republicans 66 seats in the Georgia House of Representatives and a 12 percentage point edge in the Senate. Four years ago, there was little partisan variation in that measure (67 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans said it was very important to see which party controlled Congress after the election), and it has held true through the 2018 campaign.
The 2018 midterm elections are expected to be barnburners, with Republicans having chipped away recently at the lead Democrats held when Harry Reid was their campaign strategist. While everyone is watching to see if Republicans will keep supporting Donald Trump or if they will finally begin showing some fatigue with the former president’s antics, the keys to the 2022 midterms will probably come down to a few voters in a few states.
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