The widely predicted red wave did not occur in the 2022 mid-term elections.  This is an assessment of why, and an assessment of what it means for both parties in 2024.

First, the tentative scorecard of partisan power after 2022 midterms:

U.S House of Representatives

R 220  D 215 (R’s flip chamber, R’s gain 8 seats)

U.S. Senate

D 51   R49 (D’s hold chamber, D’s gain 1 seat, R’s win 20 and D’s win 15 in 2022)

Governorships

R 26   D 24 (D’s gain 2, R’s win 18 and D’s win 18 in 2022)

State Legislative Chambers

R 56   D 40 (D’s gain 4)

State Government Trifectas

R 23   D 14 (D’s lose 1)

Presidency

Democrats hold presidency (not contested in 2022)

SCOTUS

Remains 6 Republican appointees and 3 Democratic appointees

In summary, there clearly was not a red wave, despite the high inflation, the unpopularity of the sitting President, the traditional swings in midterm momentum, and the rightward drift of key demographics (people of color and white suburban women).  The specter of Donald Trump was more of a negative in the races than the specter of Biden’s disapproval ratings and the general feeling that the country is headed in the wrong direction.  The Democrats’ appeal to “save Democracy” was more effective than the Republicans’ “election fraud” angst.  Many voters were energized by the Dobbs decision in July (pro-choice is a more popular sentiment than pro-life).   Most importantly, the Democrats effectively targeted Gen Z.  In general, the Democrat’s were more effective at raising money, messaging, and targeting key races.

However, a significant portion of the national and state level political machinery is still red after 2022.   Conservatives control the U.S. House, the Supreme Court, 58% of state legislative chambers, 62% of the state trifectas, and a majority of the governorships.

Digging deeper into the data:

  1. The Republicans won 51.4 % of the House votes to 47.1% for the Democrats (although not all results are in yet, so this margin will likely diminish when the counts are done). This was a surprisingly strong result for Republicans in terms of popular vote totals, but it did not translate into as many flipped seats as predicted.  This suggests the Democrats were more effective at the point of attack in the key battleground races.
  2. The two parties were nearly dead even in Senate popular vote (R’s 38.9M, D’s 38.8M). The Democrats gained a seat in the Senate despite narrowly losing the total popular vote.  This suggests again that they were more effective in the critical battles.
  3. In the seven battleground Senate races (AZ, NV, OH, GA, WI, PA, OH, NC), the total popular vote was nearly dead even (R’s and D’s each with 11.4M). However, the Democrats won four of the seven contested seats.
  4. As predicted, the Republicans gained ground in several key demographic groups as compared to the 2018 midterms. The Republicans gained 10 points of Hispanic support, 17 points of Asian support, and 4 points of black support.  They gained 8 points of support from women and 5 points of support from independents as compared to the 2018 midterms.  These electoral shifts were likely the basis of many red wave predictions prior to the election.
  5. Offsetting that was a surprisingly strong and partisan turnout by Gen Z (ages 18-29). Gen Z turnout was 35% higher than historical norms for that age group, and 63% of them voted Democratic versus 35% Republican.  Given the thin margins in many House and Senate races, this is likely a key reason why the Republicans underperformed in terms of gaining the predicted seats.  The Democrats were effective in targeting this demographic with student loan forgiveness for 27 million borrowers, strong support for abortion rights, and strong support for climate change and “democracy”.   Exit polling suggests these were key concerns of this demographic.  The Republican focuses on inflation, immigration, election fraud, and family values did not resonate with this demographic, which tends to be more idealistic and less experiential.
  6. In the other age brackets, the Democrats had a 4-point margin in ages 30-44, while the Republicans had a 10-point margin in ages 45-65 and a 12-point margin in ages 65+. Combined with the Gen Z results, this indicates a clear generational stratification in American politics.  The Democrats are clearly winning the battle for the younger generations, while the Republican strength in the older generations is diminishing over time simply because of attrition.
  7. There is also a pronounced urban/rural stratification in American politics. Democrats had a 17 point margin in urban areas, while Republicans had a 6 point margin in suburban areas and a 29 point margin in rural areas.  The suburban margin was a six-point swing toward Republicans compared to 2018 midterms.

Looking ahead to 2024:

  1. The Trump legacy was a drag on Republican performance in 2022. Trump has announced his candidacy for 2024.  The Republicans would be well-advised to pick someone else in their presidential primary.  Trump’s negatives, and the related election-denial angst, do not play well with the general electorate (especially with Gen Z and Millennials).  If the Republicans don’t move on from the Trump influence, they will lose the Presidency in 2024.
  2. If the Republicans rid themselves of Trump, the Democrats will need to do some soul-searching with their presidential candidates. Biden was a safe, stabilizing pick in 2020 but will be a risky pick in 2024 due to his age and his negative ratings.  Kamala Harris is a non-starter.  Who then?
  3. The Democrats will have to play defense in the Senate, much like the Republicans had to play defense in 2022. Of the 33 seats up for re-election, 21 are Democrat and 12 are Republican.  The Republicans will only have to pick up 1 seat to control the Senate (if they win the Presidency) and 2 seats (if they lose the presidency).  The Senate will be very much in play in 2024 for the Republicans.
  4. There were localized red waves in key states in 2022. Florida, Ohio, and Texas are solidly red now, which gives the Republicans room in 2024 to spend more time and money on the purple states.  More ominously for the Democrats, New York is starting to turn a bit purple.  This could be a major vulnerability for them in 2024.  The Republicans were closer to winning the NY governorship (47.1% of votes) than the Democrats were to winning Florida’s (40.0%) or Texas’ (43.8%).  Seven million NY voters stayed home in 2022 (slightly over five million voted).  Who will get their attention in 2024?
  5. What the Republicans need to do to win in 2024:
    • Abandon Trump. He is politically toxic at all levels now.
    • Pick better candidates (e.g., not candidates like Oz, Masters, Walker).
    • Use their control of the House to put forward meaningful bills rather than to prosecute witch hunts. Even if their bills are not supported by the Senate or the President, the House Republicans need to be seen as willing to offer concrete solutions rather than be obstructionists.  It is not enough to campaign on not being democrats in 2024.
    • Put forward a real plan to protect social security, even if it means raising social security taxes on the wealthy.
    • Focus less on religious and cultural issues and more on practical governance issues like border control, crime, national defense, and the economy.
    • Propose national legislation making abortion legal up to 16 weeks, and after that if the health of the mother is jeopardized (this would be a bitter pill to swallow for the Republicans, but the national sentiment leans heavily in that direction). Might was well take this arrow out of the Democrats quiver and be done with it.
    • Come together as a party. The Democrats are much more effective at overlooking their internecine differences when they enter the voting booths.
    • Get better at GOTV. The Democrats continue to outperform with getting out their vote, particularly at the points of attack.
    • Most importantly, realize, as Jefferson did, that life belongs to the living, and as one generation exits the stage, another takes its place. The generations taking the stage now think very differently than the ones leaving it.  This doesn’t mean conservatives need to abandon their core principles, it means they need to reconsider how to frame their principles and message them in the years to come.  They need to convince Gen Z and the Millennials that Obama’s Life of Julia video, with its birth-to-death support by the state, is not a healthy vision for America.  Right now, the younger generations think it is.
  6. What the Democrats need to do to win in 2024:
    • Chart a path to 270 that does not include Texas, Florida, or Ohio. The Republicans will take direct aim at the purple states, so the Democrats need to prepare for battle with them.
    • Improve the economic situation, which means taming inflation and keeping people employed. The “save democracy” and “protect abortion” messages will carry less weight in 2024.  Voters will want real results from the Democrats in charge of much of the government (Senate and Presidency).  If inflation continues and/or if a recession sets in, the Democrats will be in deep trouble.  Grand visions like “climate change” and “save democracy” ring hollow when it’s a struggle to pay the mortgage and feed the family.
    • Stop insulting potential voters. Accusing the Republicans of being racists is not working (people of color are moving away from the Democratic party).  Neither is accusing Republics of being misogynists (white women are moving away from the Democratic party).  Accusing Republicans of being fascists might work if Trump is front and center, but it will ring hollow if the Republicans move on from him.
    • As in 2022, continue a laser-sharp focus on key Senate races, because the deck is stacked against the Democrats due to the large number of seats they must defend. This will be a tall order if the economy is in trouble.
    • Find a real candidate for President. Biden is unpopular and struggling.  Gen Z may get very disillusioned with him, especially if the courts torpedo his 2022 promise of student loan forgiveness.  Kamala Harris is unpopular and widely seen as divisive and ineffective (she also won zero delegates in the 2020 Democratic primaries).  Consistent with their focus on the younger generations, the Democrats need to find some younger leadership, especially now that Pelosi is moving on.

Brief Summary of Michigan Mid-Term Results:

Whitmer won re-election by 11 points, and the Democrats flipped both legislative chambers.  The MIGOP was widely seen as ineffective prior to the election, and the results proved this out.   They performed much like a circular firing squad, with “election deniers”, “establishment GOP”, and “true patriots” attacking each other rather than the Democrats.  MIGOP Co-chair Maddock was so focused on helping her husband Matt become speaker that she was unaware both chambers of the legislature were in jeopardy.  They ran marginal candidates at the top of the ticket, their big donors sat out the election (e.g., DeVos and the national GOP), former Republican governors Engler and Snyder openly endorsed Whitmer, and their messaging on abortion was counterproductive (especially since abortion was on the Michigan ballot).  They ceded the initiative on ballot proposals, all of which were designed to help Democratic GOTV efforts.  The Democrats, on the other hand, were more effective with GOTV, especially with university students and union members.  The situation is not likely to be much better in 2024.  The GOP circular firing squad will reload and shoot each other again, and the Democrats will put more GOTV-inducing proposals on the ballot.