There has been a lot of controversy and movement in the national opinion polls tracking voter sentiment over the past few months leading up to November’s midterm election. Prospects for Democrats hit a low ebb in July, when Joe Biden’s public job approval numbers, pummeled by rising inflation, dipped below the crucial 40% level.
At that point, the multiple failures of Biden’s presidency had clearly become a serious political liability to the Democrat midterm candidates. Even the Democrats’ own pollsters were predicting a loss to Republicans of historic proportions in the House, as well as their 50-50+1 working majority in the Senate, thereby putting the GOP firmly in control of Congress. There was even a movement among Democrats, reported prominently by the New York Times and other liberal news outlets, calling for Biden to renounce his plans to run for a second term in 2024 for the sake of the party, as well as a search for new party leaders on the national level as replacements for both Biden and his equally incompetent Vice President Kamala Harris.
But then the situation seemed to turn around. Gas prices at the pump nationwide had peaked at just over $5 per gallon, and began to decline throughout the summer. Naive Republicans in the Senate were persuaded to go along with another bloated Democrat spending proposal ostensibly to support the development of a robust domestic chip manufacturing industry in the interest of national security. They were then blindsided by the unexpected announcement by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia had agreed to drop his objections to a cut-down version of Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, in return for promises to Manchin of long-sought benefits for West Virginia’s fossil-fuel based economy.
In a transparent attempt to make the dirty deal between Manchin and Schumer more palatable to the public, it was then cynically re-titled as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which became a cruel joke when the Biden administration announced the cancellation of $420 billion worth of federally guaranteed student loans, which more than wiped out any budget saving or inflation reduction measures in the Manchin-Schumer bill.
Yet Democrats were greatly heartened by those developments, as well as the strong liberal voter backlash which arose against the ruling by the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade decision.
BIDEN’S SUMMER TURNAROUND
For the first time in almost a year, Biden seemed to be making progress in enacting his liberal policy agenda, while the media was focusing on the efforts by the House January 6 committee to further discredit both President Trump and his supporters as alleged threats to American democracy. His job approval ratings began to recover to a more politically survivable level of about 42%, high enough to give many Democrat candidates in the midterms new hope that they could survive that disadvantage by distancing themselves sufficiently from Biden during the campaign.
Democrat pollsters also reported optimistically that many of the Trump-endorsed GOP candidates who won their primary elections, such as Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, and Arizona Senatorial candidate Blake Masters were political novices who would likely not be as competitive going up against their Democrat opponents in the midterm elections themselves.
While still conceding the likelihood, based on historical considerations, of Republicans taking over the majority in the House, Democrats were no longer expecting a loss of major proportions and were even talking about the possibility of picking up enough Senate seats to secure a clear majority in that chamber as well.
LINGERING DEMOCRAT ELECTORAL OPTIMISM
That more optimistic view of Democrat prospects in the midterm elections still remains prevalent in the mainstream media. This is despite the fact that the inflation triggered by President Biden’s excess spending remains high, prompting predictions that the subsequent necessity for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rate to fight inflation is likely to tip the US economy into a much deeper recession, possibly as soon as the end of this year.
But a closer look at statistics focusing on the most competitive midterm races around the country, as well as an analysis of historic midterm voting patterns, paints a different picture. Despite the recent Democrat gains, most polls are still predicting that a more modest yet substantial GOP majority will emerge in the House, as well as just enough Republican Senate pickups to gain control of that chamber, as well.
For example, a recent poll of registered voters in battleground districts across the country found that Republican candidates were holding a commanding 21-point (55%-34%) lead over their Democrat opponents.
Similarly, a recent analysis using the ABC/FiveThirtyEight polling model of likely voters revealed a 51-46 Republican advantage, as well as the fact that the Republican position is favored in three out of the four issues rated most important by voters, including the economy (84%), inflation (76%), and crime (69%). The only major issue on which Democrat candidates seemed to have an advantage was on education and schools, most probably because of Biden’s recent move to wipe out most student debt.
TWO NEW GOP CAMPAIGN PLATFORMS
Another consideration is that the current polls mostly do not yet reflect the impact of two recently published Republican campaign statements, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s “Commitment to America,” which was inspired by then-GOP leader Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract with America.”
The current proposals in the GOP’s Commitment to America fall into four general categories, including “An Economy That’s Strong” due to pro-growth tax policies and a restoration of America’s energy independence; “A Nation That’s Safe” because its borders have been secured, and the institutions of law and order as well as national defense have been strengthened; “A Future That’s Free” because parents will once again be given a voice in determining the content of the children’s education, and full freedom of speech will be protected from Big Tech corporate censorship; and “A Government That’s Accountable” due to the restoration of vigorous congressional oversight.
The second GOP campaign initiative was sponsored by the Republican Study Committee. It is called the “Family Policy Agenda” and focuses more narrowly on the conservative response to the American left’s cultural wars. More specifically, it seeks to counter the takeover of the curriculums in many of the nation’s public schools in order to indoctrinate young students with radical liberal views, without the consent and usually against the will of most parents.
Another interesting observation made by former George W. Bush political strategist Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal commentary is that in this midterm election cycle, both parties seem to be talking past each other. Each is ignoring the issues on which the opposing party seems to hold an advantage, while concentrating instead on the issues likely to boost the turnout of their respective liberal and conservative voter bases.
For the Republicans, that means emphasizing the growing problems with the economy, especially inflation; the rise of violent crime; as well as the wave of illegal immigration inspired by Biden’s open border policies. At the same time, Republicans have largely ignored the favorite Democrat issues in this election cycle, including the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, sensational Democrat claims concerning the January 6 riot by Trump supporters at the Capitol in Washington, DC, as well as accusations that any Republican who still supports Donald Trump is an election denier whose political beliefs poses a dire threat to American democracy.
GAMBLING ON THE PREFERENCES OF INDEPENDENT VOTERS
The positions of both parties represent a gamble that the swing voters in this election, consisting mostly of independents, will find their pet issues to be more important to them personally than those of the other party.
More specifically, independents are more likely to be influenced by Democrat concerns over climate change, Roe v. Wade, and the implications of the January 6 riot than they are by Republican concerns over inflation, a looming recession, out-of-control government spending, rising violent crime rates, the radical left’s takeover of the nation’s school curriculums and the dominant media culture, as well as the imposition of wide-ranging race and gender-based government policies.
To answer that question, Rove cites the findings of a recent survey of independent voters published by the New York Times. It found that, “54% of independents said economic issues would be ‘most important’ in deciding their vote, while 27% picked ‘societal issues such as [Roe v. Wade], guns, or democracy.” On the economy, 55% of independents agreed with the GOP and 31% with Democrats; on illegal immigration, 50% picked Republicans, 34% Democrats; and on crime and policing, they went 49% GOP, 31% Democratic.”
WILL THE MIDTERMS SEE A SHIFT IN THE HISPANIC VOTE?
Another worrying trend for Democrats in the current midterm election cycle is a well-documented nationwide swing in favor of Republican among Latinos, who also happen to constitute the nation’s largest ethnic voting bloc. As proof to that trend, Democrat candidates have been losing to Republicans in a number of recent elections in the heavily Hispanic-populated Texas voting districts along the Mexican border, mostly due to the Biden administration’s open border policies.
If a serious pro-Republican shift by Latino voters does materialize in next month’s midterm election, it could well be the deciding factor in many races around the country, and particularly in the heavily Hispanic populated Western states.
On the other hand, former President Trump’s provocative and headline-seeking words and actions continue to detract from the GOP’s efforts to keep the focus of the midterm campaign on President Biden and his failed economic policies. Even though Trump’s name will not appear on the ballot, many Democrat candidates are betting that they will benefit from their ongoing efforts to tie him to their GOP opponents.
HISTORICAL VOTING TRENDS STRONGLY FAVOR HOUSE REPUBLICAN
Finally, there is the record of historic electoral trends in midterm elections, which has been closely examined by RealClearPolitics senior elections analyst Sean Trende.
He begins his analysis by noting that Republicans, as the opposition party to an incumbent president in a midterm election, have the advantage of only needing to win five additional seats to gain majority control over the House. To prevent such a turnover, the maximum loss that House Democrats could afford would be four seats, something which has happened on five time in midterm elections since 1882.
Trende also notes that the midterm elections on each of those occasions occurred in the midst of very unusual political circumstances favoring the president’s party. In 1934, most of the country was pro-Democrat because it was eagerly looking forward to the implementation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in a bold effort to recover from the Great Depression. In 1962, the country was in the midst of an economic boom, and the Democrat President John F. Kennedy had an impressive job approval rating of around 70%. In 1998, the country was again enjoying strong growth, and President Bill Clinton had also achieved a high job approval of around 65% by Election Day.
On the other hand, in 1986 midterm election, opposition Democrats were held to a meager five-seat gain in House seats largely because of Republican President Ronald Reagan’s 63% job approval rating, as well as the strong economic growth resulting from his supply-side conservative economic policies. Finally, in 2002, economic growth was mediocre, but President George W. Bush’s job approval rating was still benefitting from the patriotic reaction of most voters to the 9/11 terror attacks.
By contrast, in the current political climate, Democrats candidates are saddled with a still relatively unpopular first term incumbent president, as well as the responsibility for stubbornly high inflation and a looming recession. According to Trende’s analysis, these obstacles make it unlikely that the results of the November midterms will vary enough from the norm to enable the Democrats to retain their thin current House majority.
HOUSE PROJECTIONS BASED ON 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS
Trende also notes that based on the pattern of Biden’s voter support in winning the 2020 presidential election, it would not take much of a Republican political advantage in each voting district to result in disproportionately large Democrat losses in the House. That is because in many cases, Biden carried those electoral districts in 2020 by relatively small margins.
In 2020, Biden won 52% of the national popular vote. If that voting pattern were to be repeated in the midterms, and Republicans carried every district in which Biden received 51% of the popular vote in 2020, Trende calculates that the Republicans would emerge with a narrow House majority of 219 to 216 over the Democrats.
But if Republicans improved their vote by just 3% to take all the districts Biden won in 2020 with 54% of the vote or less, their House majority would jump to 245 seats, while reducing the number of House Democrats to just 190. On the other hand, it would take a much bigger Democrat vote margin to reduce the GOP delegation in the House to a similar extent.
What is the bottom line? According to Trende, both the historic pattern of House midterm election results and Biden’s still low job approval ratings make it unlikely that Democrats will maintain control of the House. In addition, a relatively small nationwide percentage swing in favor of the Republican candidates could easily result in a GOP landslide.
OUTCOME IN THE SENATE STILL TOO CLOSE TO CALL
On the other hand, which side will achieve control of the Senate remains more difficult to predict. The latest RealClearPolitics average polling results show that Democrats currently have 46 safe Senate seats, as compared to 47 safe GOP seats, suggesting that the seven remaining “toss-up” seats will determine which party emerges in control of the Senate.
Those toss-up senate seats are currently held by four incumbent Democrats, including Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and just one Republican incumbent at serious risk, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, with the formerly Republican seats in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania now open, because the incumbent has retired.
Furthermore, the polling margins for most of these toss-up races have been narrowing even further, making the final outcome a month from now too difficult to predict in any one of them with any degree of certainty. However, the RCP website does say that if the election were to be held right now, based on current polling numbers, the most likely outcome would be a Republican net gain of two seats, with the GOP candidate in Nevada winning by a two-point margin over the Democrat incumbent, and Herschel Walker winning in Georgia by a scant 0.7-point advantage.
However, because the polling results in each of these states are still well within their statistical margin of error, it would be premature to use them as a basis to predict a 52-48 majority next year for the GOP in the Senate. Instead, the proper prediction, based on the current polling numbers, is that the final outcome for the race for control of the Senate between the Democrats and Republican still remains far too close to call.