The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The 2022 election results tell us nothing about 2024

Former president Donald Trump during a "Save America" rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on Nov. 7. (Joshua A. Bickel/Bloomberg)
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As soon as the 2022 election results are finalized (which could take weeks in some races), pundits will use the returns to make predictions about 2024. That’s just how the political parlor game is played.

When you see these predictions (and that’s a “when” not an “if”), be skeptical. Historically, midterm results have told us nothing about who will win the next presidential election.

If this table looks like a chaotic mess, you’re reading it correctly. The most direct measure of a party’s success in a midterm election — the number of House seats that change hands — has no meaningful correlation with the popular vote in the next presidential election.

This isn’t surprising when you think about it. Presidential elections follow a simple formula: Republicans vote for the Republican; Democrats go for the Democrat; and swing voters make a game-time decision based on the candidates and economy. The midterm results tell us nothing about who the 2024 candidates will be or what the economy will look like in two years — ergo, they can’t predict the next presidential election.

The midterm returns might tell us something about the demographic future of each party. For instance, in the 2018 elections, Florida Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis improved on Donald Trump’s 2016 margin in Miami-Dade County, presaging Trump’s 2020 gains with Latino voters in South Florida.

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But these demographic inferences are not always reliable. Remember that in 2018, Democrats gained ground in rural Midwestern counties — only to see Trump win these areas again, by landslide margins, two years later.

So when you see the first predictions about 2024, remember that the electorate has a short memory — and both parties start with roughly even odds of winning.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.