May 2022

By Blue Star Strategies' DC Team

Honestly, no one knows. Anyone who claims to know – well, doesn’t. Elections in the U.S. – like in many other countries today – are quite volatile. It’s too early to tell where voters will be in November 2022.

But some people believe they do know – and most of those people are in the Republican leadership. Republican leaders are convinced that their party will take back both the House and the Senate.

Their rationale for knowing this will happen is as follows: President Biden’s favorability is well below 50% (currently it’s at 42%) and the party in power (currently democrats) tends to lose in the midterm elections. The only policy Republicans factor into this equation is inflation. It’s high, and they contend inflation will result in Democrats huge loses.

The Democrats, until the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade hit the newsstands, were wringing their hands, agreeing with Republicans. 

The leaked opinion, if adopted, means the Supreme Court will overturn 50 years of precedent based on a constitutional right to privacy and a women’s right to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.

Whether overruling Roe v Wade, or other factors including inflation, will have an impact on the mid-terms will depend entirely on who votes! Pollsters have been largely wrong in predicting who turns out to vote.  

The other factor – absent from Republican analysis – is who the candidates are. Like we saw in the French election, even a President with low approval ratings can win decisively against a candidate the majority does not want.

A similar result could happen in midterm elections in November. While issues matter – candidates matter too. And, because of political gerrymandering – a process where political leaders try to choose their voters rather than letting voters decide their leaders – there are somewhere between 30 – 40 districts that are competitive. Competitive districts tend to have similar features. For example, they include districts where the incumbent may have won by less than 2% of the vote, or where President Biden has won the district by more than 6% and the incumbent Republican has a low approval rating, or the incumbent has retired. In short, competitive districts mean either party can win. This is precisely why candidates matter. Where elections are close, like in these 30-40 districts – neither party can win with just their voters! The party must have the support of “independent voters”, voters who are not aligned with either party or any party. These voters do not like extreme candidates, so if the Democrats put forth candidates who are “too far left” or the Republicans candidates who are “too far right”, they risk losing the election. There are many examples in Congressional elections where one party was poised to claim victory – but their candidate’s positioning on an issue was viewed by voters as extreme – and the party expected to win, instead lost the election.  

Currently, in many races for open House and Senate seats, primary voters are selecting the party’s candidate to run in the midterms. Once those candidates are selected, we will learn the impact the selection has on competitive districts and get a clearer sense of whether candidates will attract the independent voters they need to win, or whether they will drive those voters toward their opponents. Until all the candidates are chosen by primaries, there’s little way to predict outcomes in many competitive races.

We will continue to update you on the trends we are seeing – although we are inclined to let the voters decide the outcome of the U.S. midterms. For now, numbers may clarify the run up to the U.S. midterms. 

  • All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election in November. The magic number for either party to reach to control the majority is 218;
  • Of those seats that are up for election in the House about 30 – 40 districts are competitive. For those competitive districts it is important to understand how independent voters are viewing the candidates. The way party loyalist vote in competitive races is less important than independent voters, especially independent women voters.  
  • 1/3 of the Senate’s 100 members will be up for re-election in November. The magic number for either party is 50 – although if the Democrats retain 50 Senate seats, they will control the majority again because they control the White House. Although even with 50 votes in a Senate that maintains the filibuster rule, it will be hard for either party to govern effectively.
  • There are 35 states holding elections for the U.S. Senate. 14 of the Senator seats up for re-election are currently held by Democrats and 21 seats are held by Republicans. Two seats—Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—that Republicans are defending are states President Biden won in 2020. In Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina incumbent Republican Senators are retiring. Retirements present a more level playing field allowing both Democrat and Republican candidates to introduce themselves to voters and outline their policy priorities and differences.