Predictions are always precarious. In politics, where late-emerging events can affect enough voters to change an election outcome, predictions are even riskier. Nevertheless, there are enough trends this far away from the 2022 midterm election to make some educated guesses.
Democrats may not be in as much peril as history and pundits argue.
History strongly predicts a Republican resurgence. On average, the out-of-power party makes substantial gains during non-presidential voting years. In 2010, just two years after Barack Obama soundly defeated John McCain, the Republican Party gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate, an outcome Obama accurately portrayed as a “shellacking.”
Furthermore, it has been 20 years since a midterm election did not result in a change of control in at least one chamber of Congress, according to the Constitution Center.
As any political junkie also knows, Democrats maintain an extremely slim margin in both chambers of Congress. So slim that Democrats keep a nervous eye on the health of all of their members.
Thus, the prediction that the Democrats will lose at least one, if not both, chambers of Congress appears to be on solid ground. The question remains, however, whether 2022 will be a typical midterm election. Variables argue that it will not be.
Unlike any prior midterm election, the previous president remains the dominant guide to his party’s voters. While Donald Trump will inspire his base to turn out to vote, he will just as reliably turn out Democrats, many of whom would not have otherwise voted in a midterm election. The result of the 2018 election was a rebuke of Trump and it may be so again in 2022.
With the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and 147 members of Congress objecting to the certification of the presidential election, the Republican Party is stained. According to a Gallup poll conducted in March, only 25% of the voting population currently identifies as Republican, the lowest number in history. Democrats, meanwhile, have inched up to 32%, and the independent label has grown to 41%. In a country so divided, this shift should not be taken lightly.
A meaningful part of the population votes for their candidate from the gut. From that vantage point, the powerful images of an assault on the Capitol will likely play a role in 2022. Even while partisan broadcasters on Fox News have consistently attempted to dilute the effect of the insurrection on the Capitol grounds, a relentless repeat of those images will be difficult to forget, especially for non-Fox-watching Americans.
Unlike Democrats’ actions after Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act legislation early in his administration, President Joe Biden has diametrically changed direction. Instead of cautiously promoting legislative successes like his predecessor, Biden has gone big and bold with legislative successes. Just as important, he has also gone long-term.
The child-care supplement is the brightest example of this effort. The Democrats’ sweeping pandemic relief package includes $39 billion in direct funding to millions of American families. Most are likely to receive monthly payments at the time of the next election. While Republicans will undoubtedly do their best to repackage the perception of these payments, checks in the mail at election time will be a tangible argument difficult to excuse. Even a small sliver of Republicans modifying their vote in 2022 could be decisive.
Those who predict Democrats maintaining their hold on both chambers of Congress cannot lose sight of the counterforces contradicting their forecast: The steadfastness and intensity of Trump’s followers. The power of the Republican political machinery. The socialist label carries considerable clout among the faithful as does the argument that the leftist progressive takeover is radical and destructive to the country, an argument bolstered by claims of profligate spending. Trump’s martyrdom persona continues to play well to his supporters along with the view that minorities receive catered treatment. In deeply red states, the arguments favoring Democratic votes will gain little purchase.
There is a long list of things that can change before the 2022 election: Congressional retirements, legislative failures, judicial bombshells, international crises, and domestic turmoil are just a few of the potential surprises that could occur. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that unexpected events can endanger any prediction.
That said, Democrats have reasons for cautious optimism.
Robert Pawlicki is a retired psychologist and a frequent contributor to the Savannah, Georgia, Morning News.