The final lessons of the 2022 midterms
It’s over. The re-election of Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock last week wrapped up the 2022 midterms. A few days later, California actually finished counting ballots, and a recount in Colorado confirmed the narrow victory of Rep. Lauren Boebert.
So, we have new clarity on what turned out to be the strongest midterm election for a party holding the White House in 20 years. There was a national shift toward the GOP, but not everywhere. The red wave was strongest in Florida, New York, and parts of California; it was a dribble, or less, in swing states like Michigan. Here are a few key things we’ve learned.
Republicans wound up with 222 seats, exactly what Democrats had two years earlier, when a series of close races broke against them. The GOP was luckier this year in a contest that came down to just 6,670 votes spread across the country.
First, it pulled off a series of reed-thin victories in districts Donald Trump carried in 2020. Boebert, for instance, escaped the year’s closest House race with a 551-vote win in a district that the former president won by 8.3 percent points. It was the largest red-to-blue shift in any district the Republicans won, but GOP candidates in Iowa and Iowa also pulled out narrow victories while underperforming Trump.
At the same time, Republicans outperformed their 2020 numbers in some states Democrats hoped would be strongholds, pulling off their most decisive win in New York. The fifth-closest House race, the one that sealed the GOP majority, was won by Mike Lawler over Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. Lawler’s 1,787-vote win represented a 10.9-point shift toward Republicans since 2020, when the Hudson Valley solidly rejected Donald Trump.
Was that the reddest vote shift in New York? No! On Long Island, where Republicans swept all four House seats, they improved on Trump’s 2020 numbers by an average of 16.8 points. Rep. Lee Zeldin won’t run to lead the Republican National Committee after all, but this is why so many conservatives wanted him to.
Republicans won a lot of wasted votes
Gerrymandering worked. As the Cook Political Reporter’s Dave Wasserman puts it, there are “two Houses” — one that Republicans and Democrats drew to safely re-elect their candidates, and one that independent commissions drew, where the vast majority of competitive races unfolded. That also meant a whole lot of votes went to largely uncontested seats, skewing the national numbers.
For the first time in eight years, more Americans voted for Republicans than Democrats in races for the House. The GOP prevailed 51 percent to 48 percent, a 5.9-point red shift from 2020.
But many of those votes were effectively wasted running up the score in places Republicans were going to win anyway — especially after redistricting shored up their safe seats, or Democrats simply declined to put up a candidate. In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis’s gerrymander turned three swing seats into safe GOP seats, the party improved by 12 points. In Arkansas, where Democrats barely contested anything, the GOP vote improved by 7.3 points.
Democrats also outperformed in their safe seats. In Pennsylvania, they drove margins higher than ever in suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The same thing happened in Michigan, where Democrats actually improved on Joe Biden’s 2020 performance by 0.2 points by winning landslides in Grand Rapids, suburban Detroit, and Flint.
Looking just at seats that both parties bothered to run candidates, Republicans won the national vote by just 1.3 points overall, which helps explain their modest pickups.
The 2024 House battle starts in Biden districts where MAGA candidates don’t fly
Emphasis on “starts.” Ohio and North Carolina Republicans may use their new state supreme court majorities to alter their maps, just as they ask the Supreme Court to let legislatures gerrymander without judges or independent commissions interfering. Republicans may be able to draw themselves safer seats before they have to go back to the voters.
Until then, the 2024 race starts in the 14 GOP-held seats that Biden carried — most of them in New York and California — and the five Trump-won seats that Democrats held onto or flipped. Democrats held Maine’s 2nd District and Alaska’s at-large seat thanks to ranked-choice voting; they won Ohio’s Toledo-based 9th District, Pennsylvania’s Scranton-based 8th District, and southwest Washington’s 3rd District with populist candidates, facing MAGA candidates who alienated swing voters.
There was a quantifiable performance gap between the most MAGA-aligned Republicans and the incumbents and recruits less associated with Trump, which could point the way to a GOP rebuild if they can choose less alienating candidates in 2024. That was even true in red-drenched Florida, where the 31.1-point swing toward Rep. Carlos Gimenez was the biggest shift toward any Republican in the country, and the 1.2-point shift toward Rep.-elect Anna Paulina Luna was one of the smallest for any Republican in a gerrymandered seat. Gimenez could be critical of Trump, and voted to create the Jan. 6 committee; Luna ran as a next-generation MAGA activist.
- The New York Times’ Nate Cohn digs further into the gap between the GOP’s popular vote lead and their tiny majority. One narrative-bucking mystery: While MAGA candidates fared worse, a number of swing seat Democrats did well against more traditional candidates as well.
- At CNN, Ron Brownstein looks at Trump’s specific problems with independents — 66% of whom had a negative view of him in exit polls — and how that translated to midterm losses.