The Midterm Signs Were Always There

November 09, 2022 at 5:00 am UTC

While the 2022 midterm elections are by no means over, with millions of votes left to be counted, it’s evident that forecasters’ projections of a Republican “wave” election with heavy gains for the party out of power will not come to pass.

This midterm election is unlike any other we’ve seen in modern history, but the signs were always there, according to Morning Consult data.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of this election is the lens in which voters viewed it. Instead of gauging the midterms as a referendum on the president and his party, as is typical, 2022 was more of a “choice” election for voters, which we typically associate with presidential contests.

As early as one year ago, our state-level Political Intelligence tracking showed that vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents were maintaining their popularity among voters despite plummeting perceptions of President Joe Biden’s job performance, a key dynamic that endured throughout the cycle and allowed those elected officials to run ahead of the unpopular president.

Similarly, just a third of voters were thinking “a lot” about Biden when it came to their 2022 vote. That’s a far cry from the 51% who said they were thinking a lot about then-President Donald Trump in 2018, which saw the GOP lose 40 House seats despite a booming economy.

In fact, voters were almost as likely to say they were thinking “a lot” about Trump this year than they were about Biden. That ended up being a big problem for Republicans, especially since Trump became an increasingly salient and unpopular figure down the homestretch of the campaign season. Scrutiny by the House’s Jan. 6 committee hurt Trump’s standing with independents and his fight with the FBI over the bureau’s seizure of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home thrust him right back into the spotlight, helping to motivate voters who don’t like him. It’s clear these dynamics cost Republicans on Nov. 8.

Policy change — namely, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights — also had an outsize impact on how voters viewed this election, which Morning Consult data reflected in real time. The late June announcement galvanized Democratic voters, who until that point had consistently trailed their Republican counterparts on enthusiasm for voting in the midterm elections. From that moment on, Democratic engagement for the midterms, and the party’s standing on the generic ballot, remained favorable going into Election Day.

While the dust has yet to settle on this week’s elections, Republican recriminations are already underway. Reporting anecdotes suggest a collection of party officials who are furious with Trump and ready to hand the keys to the party over to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Of course we know that any passing of the baton to DeSantis from Trump, who looks primed to launch his 2024 campaign next week, will not be decided by characters in smoky back rooms, but by the GOP primary electorate.

We have big plans for 2024, and we kicked things off with a deep dive on the prospects for Trump and DeSantis, who have consistently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in our very early GOP primary surveys. Check out that story and others on Morning Consult’s News & Analysis page, and strap in for what promises to be another unprecedented election cycle.

A headshot photograph of Cameron Easley
Cameron Easley
Lead U.S. Politics Analyst

Cameron Easley is Morning Consult’s lead analyst for U.S. politics. Prior to moving into his current role, he led Morning Consult's editorial coverage of U.S. politics and elections from 2016 through 2022. Cameron joined Morning Consult from Roll Call, where he was managing editor. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Follow him on Twitter @cameron_easley. Interested in connecting with Cameron to discuss his analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].

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