No, it’s not too early to be thinking about the 2022 Midterms, and I’ll tell you why. When it comes to Congress, midterms usually spell bad news for the party in control of the White House.
You all remember the shellacking we delivered to the Republicans in 2018, right? Well now that same energy is on the opposite side of the aisle. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are in the White House, the Democrats control both the House and the Senate (barely), and meanwhile 70% of Republicans erroneously think the 2020 election was stolen from them. And they are pissed.
I’ve been reading a variety of articles about the upcoming midterms and wanted to share what I’ve learned with you all because we need to heed that this election is going to be tough for us. Can we win it? Yes. But not without a lot of organizing, donations, and energy. And all of that needs to start right now.
The historical warning signs
When it comes to control of Congress, midterms are not good for the party in control. Looking at the last 10 midterms (which takes us all the way back to the 1982 midterms during Ronald Reagan’s presidency), the president’s party has only won seats in the House twice. Yeah, twice. That’s it. In the Senate, we’ve won seats only 3 times. So right off the bat, history tells us the wind is NOT at our back.
(You can see all the details of midterm results at this easy-to-read chart at The American Presidency Project.)
The second thing to know is that prior to the 2018 midterms, Democratic voters have not turned out at the same rate as Republicans in off-cycle elections. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from the first midterm during Obama’s presidency.
You can see just how many Democrats turned out to vote for Obama in 2008, but then our turnout plummeted in the midterms. Had our turnout only dropped off the same percentage as Republicans, we would have won back the House and helped Obama pass far more helpful legislation. Alas, we didn’t and the Republicans obstructed progress for the rest of his presidency.
We know turnout in 2022 will be down from 2020, but the rate at which each party’s voters drop off is unknown. Whichever party does a better job of flattening that rate will win the election.
The Trump effect
Now, the biggest unknown is this: What happens when Trump isn’t on the ballot?
Now, to be fair, he wasn’t on the ballot in 2018, but Democratic voters turned out like never before because they recognized that taking control of the House was a way to stop Trump. So in a way, he was on the ballot. When Trump was on the ballot in 2020, he energized voters on BOTH sides of the aisle and we broke all kinds of turnout records. Republicans were animated about giving him another 4 years, and we were animated about preventing that disaster.
There are analysts who believe that without Trump on the ballot in 2022, the low propensity voters that he was able to turn out won’t show up. There are others, though, that see Trump endorsing various candidates for 2022 and see corresponding energy (and donations) to those candidates which could mean that his voters are engaged even without him on the ballot.
The other unknown is the effect of “the Big Lie” on Trump’s voters. Surveys have shown that 70% of Republicans don’t believe that Biden legitimately won 81 million votes. Trump continues to parrot that Big Lie and we see that the majority of Republican politicians either openly support that lie and/or don’t do anything to refute the lie. And some Republicans think that’ll cost them the 2022 midterms.
Frank Luntz is a well-known (former) Republican pollster and he recently said in an interview that Trump pushing the Big Lie is effectively telling Republican voters that it’s not worth it to vote. That no matter what they do, the Democrats will just “rig” the election in their favor, and this alone could depress Republican turnout.
On the flip side, there is a lot of voter suppression legislation being passed in red states and we don’t know if this will blunt the effect of the Big Lie. I.e. will voters think that now that there is legislation that “unrigs” the election, will they believe elections are more fair and therefore it’s worth it to vote?
What about redistricting?
The Census data is out and we now know which states are gaining and losing a Representative in Congress. Between those shifts, and the fact that the Republicans are in charge of more states’ redistricting processes, nearly all election analysts believe that the Republicans have the clear advantage to win back the House in 2022.
The Democrats only need to lose 5 seats in the House for the control to flip to the Republicans, and the Republicans could easily gain a net positive of 8 more gerrymandered seats through redistricting.
Now, these numbers don’t take into account any legal challenges to the maps that are drawn, or if the Democrats can stipulate how maps are drawn by passing HR1, the For the People Act.
Why we aren’t going to panic
We should all have our eyes wide open as we inch closer to the 2022 Midterms, but by no means should we give up hope. There are plenty of reasons why we can win the midterms.
For starters, Democrats appear to be quite awake to how dangerous the Republican party has become in just the past few years. And since the Republicans don’t appear to be any less radicalized with Trump out of the party, I don’t think Democrats are going to go back to sleep.
At this point in the election cycle, we don’t have a full picture of who is retiring from Congress or who the candidates will be for these seats. Getting great candidates for crucial, must-win seats can energize voters and donors.
Presidential approval seems to have an important effect on midterms and at this point, Biden’s approval rating is 15 points higher than his disapproval. If he continues to do good things for Americans and keep his approval rating high, that will help the Democrats a lot.
Also, we know that the January 6th insurrection turned off many, many Republican and right-leaning voters. A handful of elected officials, like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney, continue to refute the Big Lie and Trump’s effect on the Republican party. Plus, over the next two years, we will see high-profile lawsuits like those against the most dangerous insurrectionists and perhaps even the Dominion lawsuits against Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and others that will only serve to remind voters of just how terrible the insurrection was and how crooked Trump and his minions were.
So, let’s approach this midterm as clearly as possible: Our democracy is still on the line, and as awful as the Republicans are, they are in striking position to win back some power in Congress. Each of us needs to do everything we can to ensure that does not happen. If you aren’t already, consider subscribing to Political Charge as I’ll be delving into specific actions we can take every month!
If you want to win the midterms, please share this post with others who want to win, too!