Analysis

Midterms Could Have Gone Worse for Democrats

Joe Biden’s party isn’t popular, but Republicans are worse.

United States Capitol Washington
Skyline of Washington DC at night (Shutterstock)

Tuesday’s midterm elections in the United States could have gone worse for Democrats.

Many states are still counting their votes, but early results suggest Republicans underperformed.

371 of the 435 elections for the House of Representatives have been called: 172 for Democrats and 199 for Republicans. Democrats are still expected to lose their majority of 220 seats.

In the Senate, where 35 out of 100 seats are contested, the parties may swap Pennsylvania and Nevada but keep fifty seats each, which would give Vice President Kamala Harris the deciding vote.

Democrat John Fetterman is projected to win outgoing Republican senator Pat Toomey’s seat in Pennsylvania, defeating Mehmet Oz. Republican challenger Adam Laxalt is ahead of Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, but only by 22,000 votes with 72 percent of the votes counted.

Democratic incumbents Mark Kelly and Raphael Warnock are leading in Arizona and Georgia. With 99 percent of the votes counted, it looks like Republican senator Ron Johnson will win reelection in Wisconsin by 30,000 votes, a margin of 1 percent.

Neither party is seen favorably

There was a lot of handwringing before the election that Democrats had lost touch with middle America, including from me.

I don’t think the analysis was wrong. Only 43 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Democratic Party. 59 percent worried Democrats would “open the US-Mexico border” if they won the election. 53 percent thought the party would cut police funding. Moderate, center-left Democrats, who are the majority in the party, have not put enough distance between them and open-borders and defund-the-police extremists.

But elections are a choice, and Republicans aren’t considered more reasonable. Only 35 percent have a favorable view of them. 56 percent thought a Republican Congress would ban abortion and 56 percent said Republicans would try to overturn elections.

Those perceptions are more accurate. A majority of Republicans support an abortion ban. Many — not most — aped Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

At least Democrats got things done

Republicans had a mild advantage on handling the economy, including inflation, and crime — but not gun violence. Democrats were trusted on abortion and climate policy.

A third of Americans doesn’t believe either party has the right solutions.

Democrats passed significant economic reforms in the last two years: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which doubles federal infrastructure spending over five years; the Inflation Reduction Act, which invests in electric cars and renewable energy, lowers health-care costs for seniors and raises taxes on corporate profits, stock buybacks and methane pollution; the CHIPS and Science Act, which lowers taxes for semiconductor manufacturing and doubles federal spending on high-tech research and development; and the Affordable Connectivity Program, which would provide high-speed internet to 48 million low-income households.

They also expanded background checks for gun purchases and were helped by the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Opinions on abortion are divided, but only a third of Americans supported the reversal.

However, Democratic spending increases, coming after $1.9 trillion spent to recover from COVID-19, almost certainly contributed to high inflation, which reached 8.2 percent in September.

Democrats were also seen as indifferent to increases in illegal border crossings and violent crime.

Forced to choose between two evils, more Americans preferred a middlingly competent Democratic Party that won’t stand up to extremists on the left to a Republican Party that has been taken over by extremists on the right.

Especially where Republicans nominated weak candidates without political experience: the former TV doctor Oz in Pennsylvania, former football player Herschel Walker in Georgia. An exception was author J.D. Vance, who defeated Democratic congressman Tim Ryan in Ohio’s Senate election.

Biden’s predecessors did worse

Biden’s popularity, 41 percent, is similar to that of his predecessors two years in. But they did worse in their midterm elections.

Republicans lost 42 House seats halfway through Trump’s term in 2018. Democrats lost 63 seats in Barack Obama’s first midterm election in 2010, when they also lost six Senate seats.

Without a majority in the House, Biden is unlikely to enact more of his agenda: a ban on assault weapons, free public universities, a Medicare-like public health insurance plan and tax credits for child care.

But with a majority in the Senate, he can still make diplomatic and judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court if a seat opens up, and pass international treaties.

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