The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion I was wrong about the midterms. Here’s what I missed.

A staff member waits as a lectern is prepared during an election night watch party for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) early Tuesday night in D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Crow — the avian white meat! I’m eating a lot of it today as my prediction of a big GOP win comes crashing down. The question is why: What did I miss that others caught?

A few things come to mind quickly. First, President Biden’s job approval among voters was higher than among the public. Exit polls gave Biden a 44 percent job approval, about 2 points higher than the major polling aggregators’ averages. That difference alone would have tempered my predictions.

But that wasn’t the main factor. Instead, Democrats did something no one has done in decades: Do well with voters who somewhat disapprove of the president. I noted the importance of this group in a summertime column, writing that since 2006, the president’s party has lost this group by 20 points or more in every midterm House generic ballot exit poll. On Tuesday, Democrats won among this demographic by 4 points, according to exit polling.

Both of these factors combined to add a few points onto what I estimated for Democrats’ vote share. Instead of losing by 5.5 percent, the exit polls suggest they will lose it by about 2.5 percent — right at the polling aggregators’ average for the generic congressional ballot. At that level, predicting a GOP Senate gain of one or two seats would have been the right call.

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But Republicans are doing worse in many close races than even that recalibration would suggest. Those exit numbers imply that the GOP should be winning more House races where Biden narrowly won in 2020. That means we need to consider additional factors.

First, the urban/rural divide. It’s clear that Democrats in suburban seats outperformed the national projection. Republicans cannot become a solid governing majority without winning a clear majority of suburban seats. That remains a challenge for the party.

The expected Latino surge to the GOP also did not materialize. True, the exit polling has Democrats winning the Latino vote by an historically low 21 percentage points. But many observers, myself included, expected it to be smaller. It’s yet another example of a party that just hasn’t taken the final step to attract voters unhappy with Biden but not enamored of the GOP.

Then there’s a final factor: Donald Trump. His campaigning surge last weekend made him the focus of attention, and that is never good for a party trying to woo voters who despise him. Candidates he endorsed also went down to defeat in most contested races, proving that he foisted weak nominees on the party.

Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania; Tudor Dixon and John Gibbs in Michigan; Tim Michels in Wisconsin — all defeated (or apparently headed that way) in states that could have backed a more normal Republican. And Herschel Walker looks likely to face a runoff in Georgia, where Trump’s nemesis, Gov. Brian Kemp, won reelection comfortably. Trump’s awful judgment even polluted a winnable House seat or two, such as Ohio’s 13th District, where his pick — 30-year-old former Miss Ohio USA Madison Gesiotto Gilbert — lost to an established Democratic state legislator. And let’s not forget his resurrection of Sarah Palin, the one person whose massive unpopularity could cost the GOP a House seat in solid-red Alaska. Turns out the Democrats (and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell) were right about candidate quality.

There were, however, a few bright spots for the GOP. Normal Republicans apparently cleaned up in contested House seats in New York, gaining as many as four from Democrats. Other current or former state legislators look likely to flip seats in Virginia, New Jersey and Iowa. For suburban voters, that mold — not the ultra-MAGA inexperienced wannabe — was the ticket to victory.

The big winner Tuesday night for Republicans was clearly Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He cruised to victory by nearly 20 points, a margin unheard of in such a historically close state. The Latino surge did materialize in Florida, as both he and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) carried the historically Democratic and Latino counties of Miami-Dade and Osceola. And DeSantis’s control of redistricting gave the GOP four new seats; if the GOP manages to gain narrow control of the House, those members might be the margin.

This success will only fuel a DeSantis presidential run. Look to Trump, and he brings the party down. Look to Florida, and you can see the potential future.

It is surely premature for me even to think about a GOP resurgence in 2024 after erroneously expecting one this year. But look at the GOP letdown of 1978 — a disappointing midterm in the midst of stagflation, with Republicans gaining only a few House and Senate seats from rock-bottom Watergate levels. Two years later, though, the 1980 election ushered in the Reagan era. The country was even more frustrated than before — and ready to give a Republican governor from a Sun Belt state a chance.

Until then, however, I am enjoying this most excellent crow rémoulade. Exquisite with a mellow pinot noir!

The 2022 Midterm Elections

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 on Tuesday, experts helped us game out what would happen if he wins again.

Key issue: Abortion rights advocates scored major victories in the first nationwide election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Here’s how abortion access fared on the ballot in nine states.

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