The sitting president’s party often loses more than two dozen House seats during the midterm election — and Democrats have a slim majority.
And in most of the country, primaries have now wrapped up, which means it is now general election season, which I know for all you listeners is sort of like the most exciting time of the year. So today – the fight for control of the House of Representatives.
Democrats gaining traction ahead of the November midterm election
And I will say, you know, it is essentially a golden rule of politics, that the president’s party will lose seats in a midterm election. You know, there are, of course, exceptions, but that is the usual rule. And it feels like for months, a lot of the political chatter has suggested that this year would be no different; that 2022 was going to be a bad year for Democrats. But then, you know, last week, it seems like this special election in New York state did resuscitate Democrats’ hopes.
And it’s not just that. I mean, you know, there’s been an entire sort of landscape shift post-Dobbs, post-the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in the country. You know, I talked to Democrats; I talked to Republicans. Republicans see it as a big fundraising boost for Democrats. Democrats are seeing this as just motivating to their base. And, you know, it’s a difficult environment, generally, for Democrats with high inflation, people pretty pessimistic about the economy and the direction of the country – and usually do blame the sitting president for that. But we are seeing Democrats pick up some momentum, not just with that special election, but the abortion-related ballot measure in Kansas and other things.
Abortion a key issue this midterm
And it’s also the timing of this, too. I mean, when you think about it, this is a time when voters are kind of just starting to pay attention, thinking about, you know, maybe making a plan to vote, thinking about how they’re going to vote. And it’s when a lot of these even trigger bans are going to effect.
So this Dobbs decision happened earlier in the summer, but there’s a lot of momentum picking up right now. Abortion is an issue that affects, you know, I think 1 in 4 women in America, which affects a lot of other people. And so right as people are starting to pay attention, there are a lot more bans going to effect, a lot more laws going to effect. And Democrats really see that as a selling point to get their base out.
Swing districts leaning right
The fact is, in swing districts, which, you know, do slightly lean right in this country right now – and you have a lot of Democrats in those seats – Democrats have to appeal to independents and Republican-leaning independents. And the issue set is very different than, say, in, you know, New York City or Oakland. I mean, they just are different. And the biggest, you know, concern for independents and people in swing districts continues to be inflation.
At the same time, Democratic polling has showed that abortion rights is something that is motivating to independents as well because they hotly disagree – overwhelmingly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision. And, you know, we know that these midterm elections can be base elections, and the voters who are most active, most enthused, you know, are the ones who go out to the polls.
I also think we need to realize Democrats only have a five-seat majority; that, traditionally, you know, in a president’s first midterm, a president’s party usually loses about 26 House seats on average since World War II. And that makes it a difficult landscape for the party in power. And what’s really important is fighting at the margins, which Democrats think this will help them do.
Democrats dragging down Biden’s approval rating months ahead of the midterm
The president’s not just talking about abortion rights, for example – I mean, talking about guns, student loans, as you mentioned. And a big piece of why Biden’s approval rating has been so low has been because of Democrats, frankly, who’s been, you know, frustrated without the party getting more done. And with the Inflation Reduction Act passing, they do feel like they’ve seen a little bit more. You’re seeing Democrats be less frustrated and upset with the president, and you’re seeing them come on board, which helps his approval rating, which helps Democrats overall.
You can’t ignore, also, the impact that this has on younger voters in particular, which can be a margin of victory for Democrats in some of these really tight races. Student debt relief is such a tangible issue. I was speaking with someone last week who was talking about how, you know, the inflation reduction was a really big win for Democrats, a really big win for Biden.
Young voters focused on student debt relief this midterm election
But, you know, for a lot of younger voters, they’re looking at that and it’s, you know, maybe a success, but they don’t really know what immediate impact that that has for them. Student debt relief is a very immediate impact and particularly for young voters of color and younger voters who maybe come from families who, you know, didn’t have some economic advantages. And they are finally seeing, you know, a Democratic Party that’s really working for them.
And if you check off the boxes of some of the things that young voters are most interested in – student debt, obviously, being right there near the top of the list; climate change also a big piece, which there were some big initiatives within the Inflation Reduction Act on; and gun rights. Now, gun rights – a little bit harder to get stuff done on, but there was the one piece of legislation that did get through. So, you know, it doesn’t always go so cleanly and smoothly, but that’s the reality of having a divided government and a 50-50 Senate.
Young voters disappointed in Biden’s handling of issues
You know, to your point, I saw a tweet earlier today from John Della Volpe, who does a lot of polling on young voters. And he cited this CBS News poll tracker of where young voters were before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and student loan forgiveness executive action and then after. And you saw a 10-point increase in President Biden’s approval rating among the under age 30. I mean, that’s a sizable leap in any poll, but I would say a sizable leap, especially amongst young voters who, for months and months, have been extremely disappointed by how the president has been handling things.
I think that it shows you, also, the power of messaging and the attention that’s gotten because, you know, the amount of money is – you know, a lot of people have a lot more debt than $10,000, for example.
The NRCC, the committee responsible for helping get Republicans elected to the House, the National Republican Campaign Committee, has been quietly telling candidates in these swing districts to distance themselves from former President Trump, for example. It’s easier said than done, though, because if you do that too loudly, Trump is going to take aim at you, and that’s going to make it more difficult. But in a general election, Trump’s brand is really going to be tested with some of these candidates in some of these swing districts, depending on the line that they walk and how strongly they embrace Trump.
Trump is inserting himself into the midterm election
You don’t often see a former president really inserting himself at this point and at the same time also possibly running for president two years later. It’s an odd time. But Trump is still, you know, pretty top of mind as Democrats are kind of trying to draw those differences. And even Joe Biden, last week, kind of kicking off some of this general election rallying, gave a speech in Maryland where he was really trying to draw those contrasts between Republicans and Democrats.
I think the thing with younger voters – like we were talking about before and definitely other voters as well – is that some of the moves from Democrats to kind of deliver on some of these campaign promises and policy issues, like student debt relief, kind of make more of a difference, at least to the voters that I’ve spoken with, particularly younger voters – voters under the age of 30 – that they kind of need those deliverables.
they are really concerned about, you know, someone like Trump, that they are very concerned about the state of democracy and the future of democracy, but at the same time, you know, they are worried about things like gas prices still. They’re worried about inflation. And they’re definitely looking at ways that, you know, they can look at things like their debt and check that box off, if you will. And so those things are really top of mind for voters still, even with Trump in the background.
Many Republicans trying to get out of Trump’s shadow ahead of the Midterm Election
Well, considering all of the attention that Trump has gotten recently, whether it’s the FBI search or the January 6 committee really raising the profile, it really threatens to become, for Republicans, more of a choice between Biden Democrats and Trump Republicans as compared to a referendum, which it usually is on the sitting president. That’s where Republicans thought this was going to be at the beginning of the cycle. And a lot of them are slapping their foreheads, wondering how they’re not able to get out of the shadow of Trump even in a midterm.
Look, this is somebody with high disapproval or unfavorable rating in a lot of surveys. You know, Trump has a firm grip on the Republican Party, certainly. But when it comes to independents and, of course, Democrats, you know, he’s – a majority of the country continues to say that they don’t like him very much. And that makes you wonder, you know, what kind of effect is he going to have in swing districts with these kinds of candidates and in swing states in the Senate?
You know, if Republicans wind up losing the Senate when they could have won by a couple of seats and they wind up not getting as many House seats as people projected that they could have, a lot of people are going to start pointing the finger at Trump and start wondering if in 2024 they really want him to be the standard-bearer and would he be the strongest person to go up against Biden?
Democrats continuing to win in swing districts
There are about 30 to 35 swing districts. There’s probably a little bit more than that that are competitive. But that generally means that these are seats that are, you know, not decided by 5 points or less, which means that you don’t have a lot of candidates across the country who are needing to appeal to the middle. They’re not needing to appeal to independents or leaners from either party.
And I have to say, though, even though polarization has gone up tremendously since the mid-1990s and the parties have been stretched to their polls, it’s not equal. Republicans, I think it’s been pretty clear, including in this election cycle, are the party that’s been pulled most of their pole because of the strength of Trump, while Democrats – honestly, a lot of pragmatists are continuing to win as Democrats continue to try to eye some of these swing districts where they have to defend their seats.