As I type this newsletter, we still don’t know the ultimate balance of power in the House or the Senate. According to The New York Times’ legendary needle, Republicans are highly likely to narrowly take the House, and Democrats are likely to narrowly retain the Senate. But this much we do know—this was not the outcome that virtually any pundit or political professional expected (though the polling was relatively accurate). It’s the worst showing by an opposition party in the midterms since Democrats lost House seats to Republicans in 2002.
As with any complex event, we should reject monocausal explanations. Exit polls can give us part of the answer. For example, they indicate that abortion was the top issue for 27 percent of voters (only inflation was more important), and 76 percent of voters who listed abortion as the top issue voted Democratic.
We also know that the Democrats repeatedly emphasized that “democracy was on the ballot,” and every Republican gubernatorial candidate who refused to say they would have certified Joe Biden’s 2020 election lost, with the possible exception of Arizona’s Kari Lake (her race is still too close to call).
So, was that the Democrats’ formula? Dobbs and democracy? It was certainly the focus of their messaging, and Occam’s razor would indicate that the messaging worked. Surging Republican concern over inflation and crime met surging Democratic concern over elections and abortion, and Democratic concerns often prevailed.