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We often talk about waves when it comes to remembering the big victories the Republican and Democratic parties have faced at the ballot boxes across the nation in general elections. Usually, the American people elect a lot more candidates from the party opposing the sitting President during midterms, but this might not be true for 2022. Why is that?
The US House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, is likely to flip to the Republicans. According to midterm election odds, the GOP has a 90% chance of winning the House. This is not surprising since, to do this, they only need to flip 5 seats from blue to red.
There is an even narrower margin for flipping the Senate, which is divided evenly between the parties. But none of this means that Republicans will make a clean sweep of the election and walk away with large majorities in Congress, which is what it takes to make a ‘red wave.’
NBC found that persuadable voters were leaning towards the Democrats by 3-points in August 2022, and the percentage of Republicans who were “enthusiastic” about their victory in the Fall fell from 17% in May to 2% in August. There are multiple factors in this trend, but the main three are reactions to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the Republican candidates themselves, and the crisis in Ukraine.
Abortion and Public Opinion
There was incredible backlash at all levels of American society after the 2022 Supreme Court decision in the landmark case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturned Roe v. Wade and the protection of abortion as a right implied by the Constitution. There were protests online, on the streets, and in the halls of power.
Democrats were able to channel this outrage to both prevent further rollbacks on abortion options in some cases and to increase their campaigns’ momentum.
In Kansas, voters rejected an amendment to their state’s constitution to ban abortions by a margin of 59-41. This decisive result in a stereotypically conservative state spoke to the deep interest a majority of Americans had in being able to keep some level of abortions.
Messaging for Democrat candidates across the country became easier after this cultural focal point which clearly distinguished them from Republicans distracted people from the economy. According to Pew Research, 75% of voters supporting Democratic candidates say abortion is a top issue for them.
Republican Candidate Quality
The Republican Senate minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it best when he said in August that “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate… Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
If the House flips and the Senate doesn’t, then that means no red wave. The Senate candidates that are most likely to lead to that flop are:
- Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania
- Herschel Walker in Georgia
- J. D. Vance in Ohio
Of course, the Democrats have their share of questionable candidates, like the progressive Mandela Barnes being selected in the primaries to run in Wisconsin. But for the Republicans, a few candidates have seemed to attract more scandals and controversies than average.
The candidates listed above all had ties to Donald Trump and the more extreme wings of the Republican party. Oz, especially, had a narrow primary victory (less than a thousand votes!), where he undoubtedly could not have beaten the more traditional candidate without the support of Trump.
Rallying Around Biden for Ukraine
There has always been, across cultures and eras, a tendency for people to support their leaders more in times of war. In America, an increase in support for the President during wartime is called the ‘rally around the flag’ effect.
You may wonder why this applies for 2022 when we are not a war, but a formal declaration of war is not needed in order to trigger the rally around the flag. George W. Bush, after all, did not have to formally declare war in order to receive broad support in polls and baseball stadiums after the tragedy of 9/11.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unlike 9/11, has not directly damaged the US mainland, it is a conflict in which the American people have become invested.
Multiple Republicans have taken a position of skepticism over how much aid the Biden administration has sent to Ukraine. Most Americans are still in favor of supporting Ukraine until they are free from Russian aggression, which gives Democrats an issue to potentially distinguish themselves in Congressional races.
Overall, as Bovada has analyzed, the chance that Democrats keep control of both houses of Congress is low. 15% at best. But the amount of success that Republicans need for a red wave seems to be almost as low.
How much is exactly needed to claim a ‘wave year’ is up for debate, but whatever it is, 2022 is going to be surprisingly hard for Republicans to reach it?