Five lessons of the 2022 midterm election

Posted on December 14, 2022

Was 2022 a turnout election? Which groups are trending toward one of the parties? How important was inflation? Do voters even like the Democratic Party? In short, what mattered to voters in the midterms?

In answering these questions, we borrow heavily from “How Democrats Prevented a Red Wave” by John Anzalone and Matt Hogan of Impact Research, pollsters for President Biden, as well as the results of the AARP’s National Targeted Congressional District Post-Election Survey of the 63 most competitive districts.

1) A higher percentage of Republicans turned out to vote than Democrats.

Usually, the party in power loses the midterm elections in large part because their base is less motivated than committed voters from the party out-of-power. In line with the historic trend, Republicans did turn out their base at a higher rate than Democrats. As a result, Republicans won the popular vote for U.S. House by a margin of 51-to-48, running seven points better than in the 2020 presidential race. But fortunately, Democratic turnout was strong enough in swing states and districts to prevent a “red wave.”

2) Democratic messages were more effective than Republican messages.

From July 2022 to Election Day, six percent of voters were persuaded to move from supporting Republicans to supporting Democrats in the 63 most competitive congressional districts (that is, in the AARP surveys). Democrats gained five percent among voters aged 18-49, there was no change among those 50-64, Democrats gained eleven percent among men aged 65+ and, most impressive, Democrats gained sixteen percent among women aged 65+.

3) Democrats won on abortion and supporting democracy.

Midterm elections are typically a referendum on the President. Democrats turned 2022 into a choice between the particular candidates and their positions. Abortion, rated a top issue by 28 percent of voters, was the most important issue for voters under age 50. Threats to our democracy, rated a top issue by 25 percent, was one of the most important issues (after inflation) for seniors. In fact, Democrats won seniors in the AARP targeted congressional districts by a three-point margin, a major achievement for Democrats since seniors made up nearly a third of the 2022 electorate and that Republicans had won them in every midterm since 2006. The Republican issues of inflation and the economy in general were most effective among the 50-64 age group.

4) The college education gap exceeds the gender gap.

The gender gap is still tremendous. Women voted for Democrats by a margin of 55-to-40 percent while men voted for Republicans by a margin of 53-to-41 percent. But the college education gap is greater still. Americans with a 4-year college degree voted for Democrats by a margin of 57-to-37 percent while those without a college degree voted for Republicans by a margin of 52-to-42 percent. While it is true that some additional Black and Latino voters are now supporting Republicans, that is more than offset by white women with 4-year college degrees who voted for Democrats by a margin of 65-to-31 in 2022.

5) Democrats overperformed expectations because voters disliked Republican candidates.

While Democrats are understandably encouraged by the results of the 2022 midterms, they should be careful not to interpret the results as evidence that voters like the party. On Election Day, the Democratic Party was viewed as very slightly worse (53% unfavorable) than the Republican Party (52% unfavorable). In the AARP survey, among the 70 percent of voters who said they voted more for the candidate they chose rather than more against the candidate they did not, Republicans actually won by one point. But among the 25 percent who voted more against the other candidate, Democrats won by 12 points. Democrats’ success in 2022 was due to voters disliking Republican candidates.