We don’t yet have final results in the 2022 election but it is fair to say Democrats convincingly beat expectations and “fundamentals” (a midterm election, Biden’s low approval, high inflation, voter negativity on the economy and the state of the country) with their performance. Republicans will likely still flip the House but only by a surprisingly thin margin and the Senate could well remain controlled (just barely) by the Democrats, pending final results of the Nevada race and a Georgia runoff.
Putting this uncertainty to the side, the basic reason for the Democrats’ relative success is clear. A combination of the Dobbs decision and Trump’s interventions into nominating contests produced a slew of Republican candidates who could be successfully portrayed as extreme by moderate Democratic candidates, allowing them to escape the drag of the national party’s image and the negative national environment.
A finding from a pre-election survey by Third Way/Impact Research encapsulates this dynamic nicely. The survey found that about equal numbers of voters found the Republican and Democratic parties “too extreme” (54 percent vs. 55 percent), but that the story in this election was quite different when it comes to candidates.
Voters…perceive the current slate of Republican candidates to be more extreme; when asked which party has nominated more extreme candidates, voters choose Republicans by a seven-point margin (44%-37%). Among swing voters, that margin was twenty points (36%-16%). Conversely, when asked which party has nominated the most moderate candidates for Congress this cycle, 34% chose Democrats while 25% chose Republicans.
With this in mind, it’s interesting and important to ask how different voter groups responded to this situation. In particular, did the Democrats’ relative success signal a turnaround in their difficulties with Hispanic and working class voters? I don’t believe so. Here are some data from the AP-NORC VoteCast survey (far superior to the exit polls in my opinion) that cast doubt on the idea that Democrats’ problems with these groups have been solved—or even substantially mitigated.
1. Nationally, Hispanic support for Democratic candidates declined substantially, falling to just a 16 point advantage from 29 points in 2020 and 34 points in 2018. That’s an 18 point decline in Democratic margin across the two cycles. Moreover, the 40 percent of the Hispanic vote that Republican house candidates received in this election is a level of support among this demographic Republicans have not enjoyed since the days of George W. Bush.
2. Education polarization increased strongly across the two cycles. In 2018, Democrats actually carried working class (noncollege) voters as a whole by 4 points, while carrying college voters by 14 points, for a 10 point difference. In 2022, the Democrats lost working class voters by 13 points, while still carrying college voters by 7 points, a 20 point differential.
3. Looking at working class voters by race (white and nonwhite), there is an impressively large decline in the Democrats’ margin among nonwhite working class voters between 2018 and 2022. In 2018, Democrats carried this group by 57 points. By 2022, that margin was down to 34 points, a stunning 23 point decline.
4. This was even larger than the fall among white working class voters where the Democrats’ deficit ballooned from 20 points in 2018 to 35 points in 2022.
5. The demographic where Democratic support held up the best was among white college voters, perhaps not surprising given the campaign they chose to run. Their margin among this group fell a mere 6 points between their very good 2018 election and 2022. This pattern is consistent with the sort of suburban seats where Democrats managed to stave off Republican challenges this year.
All told, these data do not suggest Democrats’ Hispanic and working class voter problems are now in their rear view mirror. Not even close. And consider they are staring down the barrel of a very unfavorable Senate map in 2024, where Democrats will be defending 23 of the 33 seats in play. Holding those Democratic seats will mean winning in a raft of red and purple states like Arizona (again), Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada (again), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and (gulp) West Virginia. That’s a daunting task and, oh, the Democrats will also probably need to win back the House. More attrition among working class and Hispanic voters could be fatal to these aspirations. Relying on white college voters to somehow insulate Democrats from this weakness would be a slender reed indeed in such circumstances.
And then there’s what we might call the Democrats’ Ron DeSantis problem. There’s no guarantee Trump will be the GOP’s candidate in 2024, despite the Democrats’ evident wish for it to be so. In the wake of Republicans’ underperformance in 2022, much of it attributable to Trump and his influence, voices are growing louder in the party for an alternative. Blake Hounshell of the New York Times reported:
Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush during his presidency, called the outcome “a searing indictment of the Republican Party” that demanded “a really deep introspection look in the mirror.”
When Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, was asked for his reaction to the election results, he said, “I don’t deal in feelings.” But Scott Jennings, one of his former deputies, tweeted what many assume McConnell thinks: “How could you look at these results tonight and conclude Trump has any chance of winning a national election in 2024?”….
The National Review’s Jim Geraghty, in a blistering article headlined “The Red Splish-Splash,” called DeSantis “far and away the strongest candidate” and complained that Republican voters had “nominated clowns” in many races.
“Americans are tired of the circus, the freak show, the in-your-face, all-controversy-is-good, Trump-influenced wannabes,” Geraghty concluded.
Well then. Of course, there’s no guarantee that a groundswell against Trump would succeed in getting rid of him. But for the sake of a healthy democracy, shouldn’t we all be rooting for that—for Trump not to be the nominee? Hoping that he’s the nominee because he’d be relatively easy to beat, as many Democrats secretly (or not so secretly) do, is really rather appalling given the stakes.
Then indeed you might have to beat a candidate like DeSantis. That would not be easy given the Democrats’ current weaknesses. In DeSantis’ crushing victory over Democrat Charlie Crist, he actually carried Hispanics in the state by 13 points and working class voters overall by 27 points (!) A DeSantis ticket, accompanied by saner, more competent Senate and House candidates, would be quite a challenge for today’s Democrats.
That suggests that Democrats should take the task seriously of becoming America’s normie voter party and expanding the ranks of its working class supporters. If not—and Biden, cheered on by the left of the party, has announced he will do “nothing” differently going forward—it could be a very long decade.