The Democrats have built an impressive suicide machine which, by all accounts, they intend to deploy for the midterm elections. This theory contradicts the conventional wisdom—a conventional wisdom that was horribly wrong in 2016 and 2020. Horribly wrong in that Donald Trump won in 2016 despite prognostications of a Hillary Clinton landslide. Horribly wrong in 2020 in that Republicans generally outperformed the polls while President Biden underperformed them and barely managed to squeak through to capture the White House.
The way the 2022 midterms are shaping up, a repeat performance is distinctly possible. The Republicans may very well repeat their outperformance of conventional polls and recapture both the House and Senate. Such a result I might add, has little or nothing to do to do with any semblance of a coherent Republican strategy, which is largely non-existent.
Consider for instance the abortion controversy. For about 50 years Republicans have argued that Roe v. Wade was (1) badly decided and (2) that abortion regulation was a matter for the states decide. Well, along comes the Supreme Court with the Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturning Roe on substantially the same grounds that the Republicans have argued for lo these 50 years. But in the wake of Dobbs, despite the fact that it was leaked months in advance, Republicans were caught flat-footed.
They simply have no talking points. As in the Obamacare debacle they have proved to be much better at running against something rather than actively positing a better way. In the abortion battles Republicans have gone into a defensive crouch. In so doing they have allowed Democrats to frame the issue, however incorrectly, to their political advantage.
Democrats posit assertions that have only a passing connection, if any, to the truth. Things like assertions that the Court under the prodding of Clarence Thomas is setting the stage to overturn Loving v Virginia, a decision that found prohibitions against interracial marriages unconstitutional. Thomas, by the way is guilty of the unforgivable crime of being black and having a white wife.
Then there is the risible assertion that birth control will be declared illegal. (Note here that some Republicans have urged that birth control pills be sold over the counter in the face of Democratic resistance.) Also consider the charge that some states will make it illegal to treat Ectopic pregnancies and other medical emergencies without the ability to legally perform an abortion. Not so, as Alexandra DeSanctis points out in an exhaustive survey of abortion regulations in all 50 states. (See the article here.)
Most amazing of all is that Republicans have allow radical abortion rights activists to frame the Court’s decision as anti-democratic. This, even though the Supreme Court pointedly returned the issue of abortion regulation to the democratic process via state legislatures. It was in Roe that the Court cut out the political branches and short circuited the democratic process. And by the way, the Supreme Court was deliberately designed to be an anti-majoritarian institution whose remit is to interpret what the law is rather than to make it up as they go along. The Supreme Court is thus supposed to serve as a bulwark against mob rule in order to protect liberty.
One would think that a political party that possessed organizational and political skills only slightly superior to the average Cub Scout pack would have been prepared for this sort of onslaught. But not the Republicans. They were left staring at their shoes like the kid in the 6th grade who got called on in class when he didn’t do his homework.
This is political malpractice on a grand scale. The Party spent 50 years inveighing against Roe and when the Supreme Court finally got around to agreeing with them, Republicans were left speechless.
Not only that, Republicans managed to nominate a whole lot of Trump backed candidates whose chief claim to fame is their willingness to kiss the Trump ring. As it turns out, the Republicans did this did with substantial assistance from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) which was busy lending backhanded support for these Trumpians on the theory that they would be easy to beat in a general election. So much for the alleged “threat to our Democracy™ ”. That said, it is important to recognize the uncomfortable fact that Trumpian candidates won because Republican primary voters selected them as their champions.
Nevertheless it is my opinion that the Republicans are likely to have a strong enough showing to recapture both Houses of Congress. The reasons are several. (1) The Democrats are fooling themselves if they actually believe the American people want the radical left wing agenda of the Party to be enacted. (2) The Democratic vote is highly concentrated whereas the Republican vote is more spread out. Consequently where the Democrats win, they will tend to do so with “excess votes” that would have served them better elsewhere. (3) Wide variations in state polling results indicate substantial variation in polling methodology, but not necessarily voter opinion.
As for point 1 (above): The overwhelming majority of polls give the Biden Administration very poor marks on inflation, crime, managing the economy and border control. Further Biden himself gets very low marks, ranging between 39% and 45% approval, on how he handles his job. It is hard to believe that voters are looking for more of the same. That is why Democrats continually attempt to change the subject.
The potential fly in the ointment is (surprise, surprise) none other than Donald J Trump. The Democrats would love to keep him front and center. Donald Trump would love to be front and center. If Trump and the Democrats manage to keep him as the center of attention, there is a reasonable chance of holding the Democratic majority in the Senate and possibly the House. It all depends on how destructive Trump will be. And since he is simply seeking revenge he could be quite destructive. Absent that, the Democrats are going to get buried.
Let’s consider point 2 (above). It is true that polls pitting generic Republicans and Democrats against each other are fairly tight with some momentum toward the Democrats, probably attributable to Dobbs. But take a look at the distribution of poll results. While the overall results are tight, the distribution of the results tells a different story.
In Congressional districts rated at least somewhat competitive by ABC’s FiveThirtyEight, registered voters preferred Republican candidates by a stunning 55% to 34% over Democratic candidates. However, in heavily Democratic districts Democrats are favored by 35 percentage points. This suggests that (1) Democratic votes are very concentrated in districts where they are likely to win anyway, but (2) they are losing the race by substantial margins in the competitive swing districts that will determine control of Congress.
Now let’s turn to the 3rd point above that references polling methodology. Most, but not all polls, seem to show improving Democratic chances after a dismal summer. For instance Patty Murray is generally thought to be the overwhelming favorite in Washington state. In mid September one poll had her up by 12 points. But recently the Trafalgar group had her up only 2 points—within the margin of error. In Arizona two polls had Kelly beating Masters by 8 to 12 points. But the Trafalgar group has the spread at only 2 points—again within the margin of error. (The polls were conducted 5 days apart).
Trafalgar points out what he considers important differences in methodology that skews results. First, state polls tend to have small sample sizes. However, Trafalgar uses sample sizes of at least 1,000. Second, other polls tend to be rather long. His are short. He argues that people who take the time to respond to a long questionnaire tend to be political junkies who are systematically different from most voters.
Third, he contends that cancel culture and a routine demonization of Republicans has forced some underground. Consequently they are hesitant to respond to pollsters even when they are assured that their answers are confidential. They are concerned about being “outed” as conservative and are worried about both their jobs and standing in their communities. As a result Trafalgar contends, Republican votes are being systematically undercounted in polling results.
If Trafalgar is correct, and I believe he is, then the Republicans are going to capture both Houses of Congress in the midterms absent a dramatic new development.